Ear Infections: Causes, Symptoms, and Treatment

Ear infections (also called as otitis media) are generally caused by some kind of bacteria or viruses. Ear infections are a common ailment, particularly among children. If not treated on time and neglected for a long time, it can cause significant discomfort and potential complications. Let’s try to break down and understand the symptoms, causes, risk factors, and treatment options for effective and timely prevention of ear infections.

What are the symptoms of ear infections?

There are some common symptoms of ear infections which an individual experiences:

  • Buzzing sound inside your ears
  • Some sort of discomfort or pain in your ears
  • Feeling of pressure rising inside your ears
  • Itching or irritation due to excess wax build-up

Symptoms of an ear infection in children

Children suffering from an ear infection may exhibit several signs, including:

  • Constant Pain inside the ear: This pain might intensify when lying down due to pressure changes.
  • Pulling at the ear: Younger children may tug or pull at their ears due to ear pain.
  • Difficulty in sleeping : Discomfort can lead to restless nights.
  • Crying more than usual: One can see Babies and toddlers cry more often.
  • Fluid drainage from the ear: This can indicate a ruptured eardrum and calls for immediate checkup.
  • Difficulty hearing or responding to sounds: Fluid buildup can impair hearing.
  • Fever: It generally arises as and when the body attempts to fight off bacteria or viruses.

What causes an ear infection and what increases your risk?

Ear infections typically result from bacterial or viral infections affecting the middle ear. 

These infections often happen as a result of some other illnesses like a cold, flu, or allergy that cause congestion and swelling of the nasal passages, throat, and Eustachian tubes.

Ear infections are also common during fall and winter as a result of seasonal allergies. 

Sometimes getting exposed to high levels of smoke also might impact your ears.

Risk factors for ear infections

Several factors can increase the risk of developing an ear infection, including:

Age: Young children, especially those between six months and two years, are more prone to ear infections due to the size and shape of their Eustachian tubes and their developing immune systems.

Group child care: Children in daycare settings are more likely to catch colds and other infections that can lead to ear infections.

Infant feeding: Babies who drink from a bottle, especially while lying down, have a higher risk of ear infections than breastfed babies.

Seasonal factors: Ear infections are more common during fall and winter when respiratory illnesses are more frequent.

Poor air quality: Exposure to tobacco smoke or high levels of air pollution can increase the risk of ear infections.

Family history and genetics: A predisposition to ear infections can be inherited.

Potential complications of an ear infection

Any ear infection, mild or severe can lead to serious complications if left untreated. These include:

Hearing loss: Persistent fluid buildup can temporarily or permanently affect hearing.

Speech or developmental delays: In children, frequent or persistent hearing loss can affect language development.

Tearing of the eardrum: Severe infections can cause the eardrum to rupture.

Mastoiditis: An infection of the mastoid bone in the skull.

Pus formation: Collection of pus in or around the brain

How are ear infections treated?

Home treatment

Initial treatment for mild cases of ear infections can often be managed at home:

Pain management: Over-the-counter pain relievers can ease out your pain and help in relief which might be temporary

Warm compress: Applying a warm cloth around the affected ear may also reduce pain.

Oils: Certain oils can be used to apply in and around 

Exercise: Neck and head exercises if done with correct guidance can help too

Medical treatment

If symptoms persist or worsen, medical treatment may be necessary:

Antibiotics: If the infection is bacterial, antibiotics will be prescribed. It’s crucial to complete the full course, even if symptoms improve.

Medical treatment in children

Children might receive a slightly different treatment approach depending on their age and the severity of the symptoms.


For recurrent ear infections or persistent fluid buildup, proper medical checkup followed up surgical interventions depending on the severity and complexity of the situation are recommended

When to see a doctor

It’s important to consult a doctor if:

  • There is no relief after home remedies or medicines
  • The pain increases daily and there is no sign of relief
  • Signs of hearing loss are evident.
  • The allergy is treated like flu or cold but you are still facing symptoms related to ear infections.

How are ear infections diagnosed?

Additional tests

Diagnosis typically involves a visual examination of the ear using an otoscope. For recurrent or chronic cases, additional tests such as tympanometry (to test the middle ear’s functioning) or an audiogram (to assess hearing loss) may be conducted. 

Normal symptoms or temporary issues can be consulted to a local doctor but if  the problem/ pain keeps on increasing, an ENT specialist is the best person to consult in case of any ear related to issues for the correct guidance. 

How can ear infections be prevented?

Preventative measures include:

Wash hands regularly: Especially before meals to avoid germs spreading in your body from any mode

Stay up to date with vaccinations: Keeping up with vaccinations can prevent many illnesses that lead to ear infections.

Avoid secondhand smoke: Exposure to tobacco smoke can increase the risk of ear infections.

Breastfeeding: If possible, breastfeed infants for at least six months to boost their immune systems.

Keep the nose clear: It avoids allergies from spreading to your body

By understanding these aspects of ear infections, individuals can take proactive steps to manage and prevent this common condition, ensuring better ear health and overall wellbeing.