Ear infection occurs when fluid becomes trapped in the middle ear. They are most common in children, who are more susceptible to colds and infections than adults, and whose Eustachian tubes are still developing. For all the pain and misery they bring, ear infections are usually easy to treat.

Causes & Symptoms

Buildup of fluid in the middle ear is most often caused by colds and sinus infections, but can also be the result of allergies, cigarette smoke and other airborne irritants, infected or enlarged adenoids, and teething, which results in an overabundance of mucus and saliva. Ear infections occur most frequently in the winter months, and are more likely to affect those in cold climates, or who have recently gotten over another illness, when the body is less resistant to infection. Children who attend daycare, rely on pacifiers, weren’t breastfed, and are exposed to tobacco smoke are more prone to developing ear infections.

Pain in the ear is the major symptom of an ear infection. You may also experience fullness in the ear, hearing loss, malaise, vomiting, and diarrhea. Younger children may have a fever and have increased irritability and trouble sleeping.

Ear Infection Treatment & Prevention

Your health care provider will examine your ears with an otoscope, checking for signs of an infection. These include redness and dullness, fluid behind the eardrum, pus or fluid in the middle ear, and a perforated eardrum.

Ear infections usually clear up on their own after a few days, and are easily treated with simple home remedies. Try eardrops and over-the-counter medications for pain, and hold a warm, moist washcloth against the ear. Get plenty of rest and drink lots of fluids. Your doctor will prescribe antibiotics if bacteria are causing the infection.

Preventive measures include practicing good hygiene (frequently washing hands with hot water and soap), avoiding exposure to irritants like tobacco smoke, and making sure your child’s immunizations are current.