On this page

Ear Infections – Hello Health Hub

Ear Infections – Hello Health Hub
On this page

What is an ear infection?

Ear infections are very common, particularly in children. It is an infection in your ear that can be caused by viral or bacterial infections. You do not always need to see a GP for an ear infection. Most ear infections will get better within 3 days, although they can sometimes persist for up to a week.

Symptoms of an ear infection

Ear infection symptoms usually start quickly and include:

  • Ear pain inside the ear
  • A high temperature of 38 degrees Celsius or above
  • Being sick
  • A lack of energy
  • Difficulty hearing
  • Fluid coming from the ear
  • A feeling of pressure or fullness inside the ear
  • Itching and irritation in and around the ear
  • Scaly skin in and around the ear

Young children and babies may also show symptoms including:

  • Rubbing or pulling their ear
  • Not reacting to some sounds
  • Being irritable or restless
  • Refusing their food
  • Losing their balance

Types of ear infection

There are two main types of ear infections:

  1. Middle ear infections (otitis media) usually affect children. Viruses such as colds and flu cause them. A middle ear infection affects the eustachian tube, which runs behind the eardrum to the back of the nose.
  2. Outer ear infections (otitis externa) usually affect adults aged 45 to 75. Something irritating the ear canal, such as eczema, water or wearing ear plugs usually cause them. An outer ear infection affects the ear canal, which runs between the outer ear and the eardrum.

Ear infection treatments you can try at home:

  • Use painkillers such as paracetamol or ibuprofen - do not give aspirin to children under 16
  • Place a warm or cold face cloth on the ear
  • Remove any discharge by wiping the ear with cotton wool
  • Do not put anything inside your ear to remove earwax, such as cotton buds or your finger
  • Do not let water or shampoo get in your ear
  • Do not use decongestants or antihistamines – they do not help with ear infections

If home treatments do not work, a pharmacist can help by recommending eardrops to help stop bacteria or fungus spreading. If you suffer from regular ear infections then you should talk to your doctor.

How to use eardrops:

  1. Remove any visible discharge or earwax using cotton wool.
  2. Warm the bottle by holding it in your hand, as cold eardrops can make you feel dizzy.
  3. Lie on your side with the affected ear facing up to put in the recommended number of drops.
  4. Carefully pull and press your ear to ensure the drops penetrate properly.
  5. Continue to lie down for 5 minutes to ensure the drops do not come out.

You should contact your GP if:

  • you still have symptoms after 3 days
  • you become generally unwell
  • you have a very high temperature (40 degree celsius or more)
  • you suffer hearing loss
  • you have fluid in the middle of your ear or a fluid buildup
  • you have a weakened immune system (ie. from chemo) and ear infection symptoms
  • you have other symptoms, such as a severe sore throat or dizziness

How to prevent ear infections:

You can't always prevent ear infections. This is particularly the case with ear infections caused by viruses or bacteria.

To help avoid ear infections in children:

  • make sure your child is up to date with vaccinations
  • keep your child away from smoky environments
  • try not to give your child a dummy after they're 6 months old

To help avoid outer ear infections:

  • do not put cotton buds or your fingers in your ears
  • use ear plugs or a swimming hat over your ears when you swim
  • try not to get water or shampoo in your ears when you have a shower or bath
  • treat conditions that affect your ears, such as an allergy to hearing aids or eczema