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What is an ear infection?

An ear infection is inflammation of the ear.  Most children have at least one ear infection by the time they are 3 years old, but adults can also get ear infections.

What causes ear infections?

Inflammation in the middle ear most often starts after you've had a sore throat, cold, or other upper respiratory problem.  The infection spreads to the middle ear and causes fluid buildup behind the eardrum.

What are the symptoms of an ear infection?​

The most common symptoms of ear infections in adults are:

  • Ear pain
  • Feeling of fullness in the ear
  • Fluid draining from the ear(s)
  • Fever
  • Hearing loss

These symptoms may look like other conditions or health problems; always consult your physician for a diagnosis. 

How is an ear infection diagnosed?

Your physician will review your health history and do a physical exam; your outer ears and eardrums will also be checked using an otoscope.  The otoscope is a lighted tool that allows the physician to see inside the ear.  A pneumatic otoscope blows a puff of air into the ear to test eardrum movement.  Where there is fluid of infection in the ear, movement is decreased. 

Your physician may also do a tympanometry, a test the directs air and sound to the ear.

If you have ear infections often, your physician may suggest having a hearing test.

How is an ear infection treated?

Your physician will figure out the best treatment based on:

  • How old you are
  • Your overall health and health history
  • How sick you are
  • How well you can handle specific medicines, procedures, or therapies
  • How long the condition is expected to last
  • Your opinion or preference

Treatment may include:

  • Antibiotics
  • Pain relievers
  • Insertions of small tubes in the eardrum from chronic ear infections