Ear infection: Introduction
An ear infection is a common type of infection and is the result of an invasion of bacteria or viruses into the ear. An ear infection is a general term for several types of infections of the ears.
The ear includes three areas: the outer ear, middle ear and inner ear. An ear infection of the outer ear canal is called otitis externa or swimmer's ear. An ear infection of the middle ear is called otitis media or middle ear infection. Labyrinthitis is an inflammation of the inner ear that can be caused by a bacterial infection or viral infection of the inner ear.
Sound waves travel through the outer ear, into the middle ear where they cause vibration of the tympanic membrane. These vibrations are then transmitted through the auditory bones and into the cochlea of the inner ear. In the inner ear, sound vibrations are converted into electrical impulses and carried by the 8th cranial nerve to the brain.
An ear infection can interfere with this process and result in symptoms that typically include ear pain and hearing impairment. Symptoms of ear infection may vary between individuals in character and intensity. The specific types of ear infection also cause some differing symptoms. Complications of an ear infection can be serious in some cases and result in brain abscess or permanent hearing loss. For more information on symptoms and complications, refer to symptoms of ear infection.
Ear infections occur most commonly in infants and young children, although they can happen at any age. Certain other populations are at a higher risk for developing ear infections. They include swimmers and people who have had recent illnesses, especially upper respiratory infection. Going to a different climate or altitude, not being breastfed and living in a cold climate can also increase the risk. Ear infections can also run in families.
Diagnosing an ear infection begins with taking a thorough personal and family medical history, including symptoms, and completing a physical and ear examination. The ear is examined with a lighted instrument called an otoscope.
Making a diagnosis may also include performing a variety of hearing tests (audiometry tests). A person with an ear infection, especially chronic otitis media may need to consult with ear specialists, such as an audiologist and/or otolaryngologist, in order to get a full examination, testing, diagnosis and treatment.
A diagnosis of an ear infection may be missed or delayed in some populations. For information on misdiagnosis, refer to misdiagnosis of ear infection.
Treatment for an ear infection varies depending on the specific type of infection. Treatment may include oral antibiotics and/or antibiotic ear drops and corticosteroid ear drops. In some cases that do not resolve with medication, a surgical procedure may be needed to insert tubes in the ears, remove ear fluid or infected tissue and/or repair a damaged eardrum. For more information on treatment, refer to treatment of ear infections. ...more »
An infection in the ear. The infection can have bacterial or viral origins. An ear infection is also known as otitis media and can cause pain, fever or even loss of hearing. Severe cases can lead to perforation of the eardrum. ...more »
Ear infection: Symptoms
An ear infection often occurs in conjunction with a variety of symptoms that vary depending on the specific form of ear infection. Symptoms may also vary in character and intensity between individuals.
Symptoms of an infection of the outer ear canal (otitis externa or swimmer's ear) include ear pain when touching the outside of the ear. The pain can be extreme, and ...more symptoms »
Ear infection: Treatments
The first step in treating an ear infection is prevention. Prevention measures include using the same precautions that are recommended to prevent the spread of infectious diseases, such as the flu or colds. These include covering the mouth and nose with the elbow or a tissue when you sneeze or cough and washing hands frequently with soap and water for at least 15 seconds. You can also use ...more treatments »
Ear infection: Misdiagnosis
Because ear infections most commonly occur in infants and young children who do not yet communicate well, a diagnosis of ear infection may be delayed or missed. Symptoms of ear infection can be similar to or occur with symptoms of other conditions, such as tonsillitis, headache, tooth problems, influenza, upper respiratory infection and TMJ. ...more misdiagnosis »
Symptoms of Ear infection
See full list of 9
symptoms of Ear infection
Home Diagnostic Testing
Home medical testing related to Ear infection:
Wrongly Diagnosed with Ear infection?
Alternative Treatments for Ear infection
Alternative treatments or home remedies that have been listed in various sources as possibly beneficial for Ear infection may include:
Types of Ear infection
Read more about Types of Ear infection
Causes of Ear infection
Read more about causes of Ear infection.
More information about causes of Ear infection:
Disease Topics Related To Ear infection
Research the causes of these diseases that are similar to, or related to, Ear infection:
Ear infection: Undiagnosed Conditions
Commonly undiagnosed diseases in related medical categories:
Misdiagnosis and Ear infection
Mild worm infections undiagnosed in children: Human worm infestations, esp. threadworm, can be overlooked in some cases,
because it may cause only mild or even absent symptoms.
Although the most common symptoms are anal...read more »
Antibiotics often causes diarrhea: The use of antibiotics are very likely
to cause some level of diarrhea in patients.
The reason is that antibiotics kill off not only "bad" bacteria,
but can also...read more »
Mesenteric adenitis misdiagnosed as appendicitis in children: Because appendicitis is one of the
more feared conditions for a child with abdominal pain, it can be over...read more »
Blood pressure cuffs misdiagnose hypertension in children: One known misdiagnosis issue
with hyperension, arises in relation to the simple equipment used to test blood pressure.
The "cuff" around the arm to measure blood pressure can...read more »
Children with migraine often misdiagnosed: A migraine often fails to be
correctly diagnosed in pediatric patients.
These patients are not the typical migraine sufferers, but migraines can also occur in children.
See ...read more »
Read more about Misdiagnosis and Ear infection
Ear infection: Research Doctors & Specialists
Research related physicians and medical specialists:
Other doctor, physician and specialist research services:
Hospitals & Clinics: Ear infection
Research quality ratings and patient safety measures
for medical facilities in specialties related to Ear infection:
Hospital & Clinic quality ratings »
Choosing the Best Hospital:
More general information, not necessarily in relation to Ear infection,
on hospital performance and surgical care quality:
Latest Treatments for Ear infection
See full list of 15
latest treatments for Ear infection
Evidence Based Medicine Research for Ear infection
Medical research articles related to Ear infection include:
Click here to find more evidence-based articles on the TRIP Database
Ear infection: Animations
More Ear infection animations & videos
Research about Ear infection
Visit our research pages for current research about Ear infection treatments.
Statistics for Ear infection
Ear infection: Broader Related Topics
Types of Ear infection
Ear infection Message Boards
Related forums and medical stories:
User Interactive Forums
Read about other experiences, ask a question about Ear infection, or answer someone else's question, on our message boards:
Contents for Ear infection:
User Surveys and Discussion Forums
» Next page: What is Ear infection?
Medical Tools & Articles:
Tools & Services:
Forums & Message Boards
- Ask or answer a question at the Boards: