The most common symptom associated with ear infections is ear pain, which may be mistaken for jaw pain at times. Additionally, some patients may notice that their hearing is impacted; you may experience either hearing loss or hear voices as if you’re underwater. Drainage from the ears is also common and may even contain small amounts of visible blood. Sometimes fever is also present.
Ear infections are generally the result of a blocked or swollen Eustachian tube – that is, the tubes that run from your inner ear to the back of your throat. All of the following can cause narrowed or blocked Eustachian tubes:
Sometimes infants have naturally narrow Eustachian tubes that can contribute to the development of ear infections.
Ear infections are widespread, but those at highest risk are infants, those who smoke, children who use pacifiers, and those who have recently experienced altitude or climate changes.
Chronic ear infections that are either untreated or ineffectively managed can result in hearing loss, speech delays (in children), infection in the surrounding bone and tissue, meningitis, or a perforated or ruptured eardrum.
An ear, nose, and throat specialist, called an Otolaryngologist, will examine your ears using a special instrument. With this tool, called an otoscope, he or she can examine the middle ear and eardrum for signs of infection, fluid, or perforation. If you’re suffering from chronic ear infections, further testing may be required including hearing tests or CT scans.
Mild ear infections resolve on their own. For mild ear infections, treatment serves to alleviate discomfort while you heal and may include warm compresses, over-the-counter pain relievers, over-the-counter anesthetic ear drops, or decongestants.
Severe or chronic ear infections can be treated using antibiotics. When antibiotics are ineffective, or ear infections persist, tubes can be surgically inserted to allow fluid to drain from the ear. If enlarged adenoids are contributing to the problem, the doctor may need to remove them surgically.