Ear Infection: Causes and Symptoms

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The middle ear is the air-filled space that is located behind the eardrum, consisting of tiny vibrating bones. When the middle ear is affected due to a viral or bacterial infection, an ear infection results. Children are more susceptible ear infections than adults.Ear Infection

The infection leads to inflammation in the middle ear, causing severe pain to the casualty.

Ear infections often ease away on their own, therefore, treatment relies on alleviating the symptoms such as controlling the pain and supervising the problem. Ear infections affecting infants are often severe and need to be treated with antibiotics. Persistent signs and symptoms of ear infection such as fluid production and prolonged or recurrent infection may lead to the loss of hearing or many other serious complications in children.


Ear infections are usually caused by either a viral infection or a bacterial infection in the middle ear. Many common illnesses such as flu, colds or allergies tend to cause ear infections as they result in the swelling and congestion of the nasal passages, the airways and the Eustachian tubes.

The Eustachian tubes are two narrow tubes that channel out from each middle ear—right and left—behind the nasal passages, at the back of the throat. The openings to the throat open and close to perform the following functions:

  • Ventilation to refresh the air inside the ear
  • Maintain air pressure inside the middle ear
  • To drain out secretions that are normally discharged from the middle ear

Mucus and inflammation from an upper respiratory infection can seriously block the Eustachian tubes resulting in the congestion of fluids in the middle ear. The symptoms of ear infection are often caused due to the viral or bacterial infection on the fluid that is being accumulated in the Eustachian tubes.

Children are more prone to suffering from ear infections as the Eustachian tubes are much narrower than they are in adults and they are more horizontal as well, making the fluids more difficult to be drained out and hence, clogging the tubes.


These are located at the back of the throat that play a role in the immune system. Adenoids are a couple of small pads of tissue, and their immune system activity makes them more vulnerable to be infected and inflamed.

Due to their close proximity to the opening of the Eustachian tubes, any swelling, infection or inflammation may block the Eustachian tubes resulting in middle ear infection. Since children have larger and more active adenoids, they are more susceptible to ear infections.


The signs and symptoms occur promptly after the infection. Signs and symptoms in children having ear infections include:

  • Pain in the ears—especially while lying down
  • Disrupted sleep
  • Tugging on an ear
  • Mood disorders such as frequent crying and irritability
  • Loss of balance
  • Fever of more than 100 F
  • Headaches
  • Drainage from the ear
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Loss of appetite

In adults, the signs and symptoms include:

  • Pain in the ear
  • Fluid draining from the ear
  • Sore throat
  • Difficulty hearing

When to seek medical attention

If any of the complications occur, treatment should be sought promptly:

  • Prolonged symptoms that last for more than a day
  • Severe ear pain
  • You notice fluid being discharged from the ear—this can be any fluid including bloody discharge or pus
  • After recovering from an upper respiratory infection or cold, your child begins to exhibit behavioral changes such as irritability and sleeplessness
  • If an adult is experiencing fluid discharge or pain in the ear

Learn More with First Aid

Ear infections are not covered in workplace approved training programs, however, candidates will learn about fever’s for infants and children in standard and emergency childcare first aid program. Barrier devices and proper sanitation and cleaning are also taught in all workplace approved first aid programs.

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