Ear infections cause swelling and irritation of your ear. They are most common in childhood, and are often passed from one child to another, but they can happen at any age.
Outer ear infections can spread from general skin infections, or might just happen on your ear.
They can be caused by:
- Viruses like herpes,
- Bacteria such as Staphylococci, or
- Fungi such as candida, which causes thrush.
Infections often get into the outer ear because of scratching the skin. You might scratch the skin because it is itchy due to eczema or psoriasis inside the ear.
You might also damage skin and allow infection to enter if you put objects such as cotton buds or pencils in your ear to try to get rid of earwax. This infection is sometimes called swimmer's ear, because it can be caught through infected or polluted water getting into the ear.
Inner ear infections can be caused by:
- Common cold, which spreads through the tube that connects your ears and nose (the Eustachian tube)
- Common childhood illnesses such as measles
- Getting water in your ear when you have a burst eardrum.
Symptoms of an outer ear infection include
- Fluid or yellow/green pus coming out of the ear
In a middle ear infection, the space behind your eardrum gets filled up with fluid or mucus, and gets infected. It can cause:
- High temperature
- Slight deafness
- Feeling tired or sick
- Sometimes the eardrum bursts and fluid comes out of your ear
The treatment for ear infections depends on the cause.
Most middle ear infections clear up without treatment in about three days. Nose drops, bought over the counter, can help to reduce any swelling inside the nose and Eustachian tubes (often caused by the common cold), and ease the pressure on the ear.
Outer ear infections might be treated with lotions, creams, or ear-drops containing anti-bacterial, anti-fungal, or moisturising ingredients. These can be applied inside your ear canal on a special piece of gauze. You might also be given corticosteroid cream to reduce swelling and redness inside the ear. You should never put anything, including creams and lotions, inside your ear until you have discussed it with your doctor.
You might have to take antibiotics if it's a bacterial infection, but it is often hard for doctors to tell the difference between viral and bacterial infections - if it is a viral infection, antibiotics will not work.
Painkillers such as paracetamol can be taken to relieve any pain. Children who keep getting ear infections might have tiny tubes called grommets put into their eardrums, to help the fluid drain out from the ear. This is a common operation that usually takes about 20 minutes under a general anaesthetic.