How to tell if you have an ear infection? If you are like most, you had at least one ear infection when you were a child. A common childhood malady, ear infections can cause pain, dizziness, and imbalance. This discomfort isn’t limited to young patients, though. On the contrary, many adults develop ear infections. Unfortunately, when the condition strikes a grownup, it is often more severe than it is for younger patients.
With the tremendous amount of medical information online, it is hard to know what you can trust and what you can’t. That’s where we come in. We have read through dozens of medical articles to compile some comprehensive information about ear infections in adults.
If you are experiencing the symptoms of an ear infection, you must realize how serious the condition may be. While this article is intended to be a valuable resource, it is not medical advice. Accordingly, if you think you have an ear infection, you should contact your doctor immediately.
What Is an Ear Infection? (How to tell if you have an Ear Infection)
Often called otitis, ear infections involve inflammation of the inner, middle or outer ear. Usually, the condition presents with both swelling and infection.
How to tell if you have an Ear Infection: What Are the Symptoms of an Ear Infection?
An ear infection may be in the outer, inner or middle ear. The condition’s symptoms depend on the location of the infection.
Symptoms of an Outer Ear Infection
An outer ear infection is called otitis externa in the medical literature. Colloquially, this condition may be known as swimmer’s ear. Before looking at the symptoms of an outer ear infection, you should understand what constitutes the outer ear. Generally, everything from your eardrum to the outside of your head is the outer ear. How to tell if you have an ear infection? If you have an infection of this part of the ear, you may experience the following symptoms:
- A dry, itchy or scaly rash
- Pain or tenderness in the ear canal
- Redness in the ear canal or ear
- Swelling of the ear canal or ear
With an outer ear infection, you may also notice a discharge coming from the ear canal. Mostly, if you are suffering from an external ear infection, the parts of the ear just below the surface will likely be irritated.
Symptoms of an Inner Ear Infection
The inner ear includes the canals and tiny bones that make up your internal balance system. If you have an inner ear infection, you may not have an infection at all. Instead, you may have inflammation that is interfering with your sense of balance. Inflammation could be due to conditions called vestibular neuronitis or labyrinthitis. How to tell if you have an Ear Infection? Here are some symptoms of an inner ear infection include the following:
You don’t want to ignore the signs of an inner ear infection. Besides being extremely unpleasant, an inner ear infection could be evidence of a serious condition. As such, you should never try to treat an inner ear infection at home. Instead, you should seek emergency medical care as soon as possible.
Symptoms of a Middle Ear Infection
Your middle ear is the space between your eardrum and your inner ear. If you have a middle ear infection, known medically as otitis media, you likely have fluid trapped beneath your eardrum. As you may suspect, fluid buildup can cause your eardrum to bulge. This can be excruciatingly painful. A few symptoms of a middle ear infection are these:
- Hearing loss
Those who are suffering from an inner ear infection often feel like their ears plugged. Therefore, your first indication may be hearing muffled sounds. While the infection progresses, though, you may feel like your eardrum is about to burst.
Do You Need To See a Doctor for Your Ear Infection?
Deciding whether to seek medical care for an ear infection isn’t as simple as it may seem. Because symptoms develop slowly, they can often be easy to ignore. Generally, if you are only experience localized pain in your ear, you may decide to wait a couple of days before contacting your medical provider. This isn’t a bad approach, as frequently earaches resolve on their own without doctor intervention. If your symptoms are worse than just a pain, however, you should probably seek medical care. How to tell if you have an ear infection? Specifically, contact your doctor immediately if any of the following applies to you:
- have a fever
- feel dizzy or nauseated
- You are vomiting
- have blindness
- hearing loss
- Your ears are discharging fluids
- You have excruciating pain
- You have a rash
A hearing is an important part of everyday life. So is the balance. Since your ears play such a vital role in your overall health and wellbeing, you don’t want to jeopardize them. Usually, a quick examination can rule out severe medical conditions. Accordingly, erring on the side of visiting your doctor is often a good policy.
What Causes an Ear Infection?
Just as symptoms of ear infections vary based on the location of the infection, the cause of an ear infection usually depends on its location. Generally, however, ear infections are the result of a bacterial infection inside your body. Let’s look at the causes of ear infections in each part of the ear.
Causes of an Outer Ear Infection
As mentioned, how to tell if you have an ear infection? many individuals refer to outer ear infections as swimmer’s ear. This name evidences the commonality of the condition in patients who have spent time in the water. That makes sense, as an outer ear infection usually starts with pooled water inside the ear. This water produces the perfect, moist climate for bacteria to grow and multiply. Bacteria then gains a foothold in your outer ear through irritation or a scratch.
Causes of an Inner Ear Infection
Inner ear infection often isn’t infections at all. Instead, they may be inflammation of the parts of the inner ear. This is known medically as vestibular neuronitis. This condition occurs when the vestibular nerve inside the inner ear becomes infected due to a viral or bacterial infection. Before realizing you have vestibular neuronitis, you may first have cold or flu-like symptoms. Because meningitis or another bacterial infection can cause vestibular neuronitis, you don’t want to ignore the signs of an inner ear infection. Instead, you must seek immediate medical care if you have dizziness, vertigo, nausea or imbalance.
Causes of a Middle Ear Infection
Middle ear infections can start with the common cold or the flu. Congestion and infection in the sinuses often spread into the eustachian tubes of the middle ear. When healthy, eustachian tubes regulate air pressure inside your ear. When infected, though, these tubes swell. Inflammation interferes with drainage, causing fluid to build up. Pressure pushing against your eardrum causes pain and irritation. Infection may be mild, moderate or severe.
What Are Some Risk Factors for Developing an Ear Infection?
How to tell if you have an ear infection? As you know, children often develop ear infections more frequently than adults. The reason for this is simple. Children have small eustachian tubes. Less swelling is required for children to grow a problem than for adults. Therefore, the biggest risk factor for developing an ear infection is a child. Some adults, however, have underdeveloped eustachian tubes in their middle ears. Others have tubes that have a horizontal orientation. These patients are usually more susceptible to acquiring an ear infection than others.
How to tell if you have an ear infection? Here are the following factors may also increase your odds of developing an ear infection:
- Being around second-hand smoke
- Having seasonal allergies
- Developing an upper-respiratory infection
- Suffering from a cold
While each of these factors raises your risk of acquiring an ear infection, this list isn’t exhaustive. Some patients develop ear infections for seemingly no reason. For others, a serious infection or other medical disorder cause an infection. Remember, only your doctor can properly diagnose an ear infection and rule out serious medical conditions.
How Do Doctors Diagnose an Ear Infection?
Family doctors are trained and equipped to handle a variety of medical situations. If you think you have an ear infection, your doctor will likely perform a physical examination. During the procedure, he or she will probably look inside your ears using an otoscope. Your physician may also target your eardrum with a puff of air to see how it reacts.
If your general health care provider is unable to diagnose your ear condition, he or she may refer you to an audiologist or ear, nose and throat specialist. That professional or your family doctor may also conduct a hearing test to see if your ear condition has caused hearing loss.
How Do Doctors Treat Ear Infections?
Since bacteria infestation causes most ear infections, doctors usually prescribe an antibiotic. You may either take these orally or apply ear drops. In serious cases, IV antibiotics may be necessary to restore your ear health. Your doctor may also prescribe antihistamines, nasal steroids, decongestants or other medications. Moreover, if you suffer from chronic ear infections, your doctor may refer you for a surgical procedure.
Your ears are incredibly important. If you notice any of the warning signs of an ear infection, you should take them seriously. By carefully monitoring the condition and seeking medical treatment, you can increase your odds of maintaining good ear health.