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Symptoms of Ear Infections in Adults

Symptoms of Ear Infections in Adults

Though more common in children, an ear infection in adults cannot be termed as rare. In adults, these are caused by bacterial or viral conditions, for example common cold. It causes symptoms such as ear blockage, temporary hearing loss, pain in the ear, etc.
Reshma Jirage
Last Updated: May 11, 2018
Our ear comprises three main parts - the inner ear, middle ear, and the outer ear. It functions in such a way that the wavelength of sound travels via the outer ear and reaches the middle portion (ear canal), and through the canal the vibrations travel to the inner ear. Various health conditions can affect the hearing ability of a person, and a few cause ear infections.

Otitis media is the most commonly-experienced ear infection. Also known as middle ear infection, it is caused by an inflammation of the middle ear. When the bacteria or infectants causing cold, sore throat, and other respiratory problems spread to the middle ear, it results in inflammation. Otitis externa, also known as swimmer's ear or outer ear infection, is another type of infection that affects adults.

Otitis Media a.k.a. Middle Ear Infection
The small gap at the rear of the eardrum where three tiny bones catch vibrations and pass them to the inner ear, is the middle ear. This region is linked with the upper respiratory tract via a small channel called the eustachian tube (pronounced: yoo-stey-shuh n). Middle ear infections are classified into two types:

Acute Otitis Media - This type generally occurs after a viral upper respiratory tract infection, like flu or common cold, or any other type of respiratory infection.

Chronic Otitis Media - An ongoing otitis media that occurs due to a badly-torn eardrum, and is usually followed after acute otitis media.

  • Fever
  • Blocked ears
  • Dizziness
  • Temporary hearing loss
  • Pain and itchiness inside the ear
  • Pus drainage
  • Flaky skin
  • Sore throat
  • Upset stomach or diarrhea (very rare)
Probable Causes
The fluid that the middle ear carries is drained to the throat via the eustachian tube. When there is a blockage or swelling in this tube, the fluid starts building up in the middle ear. Due to this fluid build-up, various bacterial and viral agents incubate easily, resulting in an infection. Later, the white blood cells rush in from the bloodstream to fight the infection, and during this process, there is an accumulation of killed bacteria and dead white cells, resulting in the formation of pus in the middle ear. Due to the accumulation of this pus, the eardrum and middle ear bones are unable to move freely, causing hearing issues. A few reasons for the eustachian tube to swell up or get blocked are:
  • Allergies
  • Upper respiratory infections
  • Frequent exposure to fumes or smoke
Otitis Externa a.k.a. Swimmer's Ear or External Ear Infection
The extrinsic visible area of the ear contains the pinna (cartilaginous structure of the external ear), and the external auditory meatus. Its main function is to collect sound energy and direct it on the eardrum, which is a part of the middle ear. Infection in the external part of the ear is most common amongst swimmers, and hence the name. Many a time, while swimming, contaminated chlorine water is trapped in the ear along with various bacteria and microorganisms, which cause the infection. In may cases, an infection in the external ear is caused by the inflammation of the outer ear canal.

  • Minimal hearing loss
  • Swollen lymph nodes in the throat
  • Slight fever
  • Itchy and flaky skin
  • Watery or pus-like discharge
  • Feeling of constant pressure and fullness
  • Intense pain, which worsens with the movement of the ear lobe or jaw
Probable Causes
Otitis externa is caused by fungi or bacteria which invade the ear under extremely wet or moist conditions. Frequent swimming increases the chances of this infection. Apart from swimming, various other causes that lead to this type of infection are:
  • Excess moisture in the external ear
  • Heavy perspiration
  • Allergy caused due to hair products or jewelry
  • Cleaning the ear with a hairpin or ear bud
  • Constant use of headphones or hearing aids
  • Itching the ear with a fingernail
Treatment Options for Ear Infections
From the Doctor's Clinic:
  • Antifungal ear drops for fungal infections
  • Acidic ear drops to destroy the bacteria causing the infection
  • Corticosteroid ear drops for the inflammation and swelling caused
  • Antibiotic ear drops for the various bacterial infections
  • Antibiotic capsules like flucloxacillin
  • Over-the-counter painkillers like ibuprofen, acetaminophen, naproxen, and codeine (for severe case)
  • Anti-inflammatory drugs to relieve the inflammation and pain
In case the above-mentioned antibiotics does not clear and cure the infection, the doctor might advise a minor surgery. This method involves piercing a sterilized needle and draining out the pus.
Note.- Never attempt this procedure by yourself.

Home Curatives:
Heat Compress - Soak a wash cloth in hot water and let the heat relieve the ear pain. Repeat this method as frequently as possible.

Garlic - Place a boiled garlic clove on the ear (don't push it into the ear canal), and cover it with a cotton ball. Keep it for a day. Repeat this for 2 to 3 days with fresh garlic. The garlic aids in pulling out the infection. Garlic oil can also be used instead of the clove.

Red Wine - Pour one small cap of red wine in the ear and let it soak for three minutes, and then drain it out completely. Repeat this twice everyday for 3 to 4 days. (Note.- Drinking the wine will not help cure the infection.)

Eucalyptus & Lavender Oil Steam - Boil a bowl full of water and add 2 to 3 drops of both the oils mentioned. Now inhale this steam, and let it reach the passage that connects the ears, nose and throat.

Breast Milk - Pour a few drops of breast milk into the ears and cover it with a cotton ball. Repeat this 2 to 3 times a day, and feel the positive results, as breast milk contains certain antibodies that help cure the infection.

Even though you are now aware of all the ear infection symptoms in adults as well as children, do not consume or use any medication without the prescription of a medical practitioner. You may end up worsening the condition. Besides, it is advised to prevent any kind of moisture other than the prescribed drops to enter the ears. Traditional remedies such as pouring warm oil into the ear should be totally avoided, as the warmth may take away the pain for sometime, but the infection will either get worse or the healing process would be stunted by the oil.

Disclaimer: This article is for informative purposes only, and does not in any way attempt to replace the advice offered by a medical professional.