From the Blog

Pain from ear infections: What to watch for in children and adults


For parents, nothing is more heartbreaking than to see their child in pain, and pain from ear infections is something many kids will, unfortunately, have to go through at some point. According to the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders (NIDCD), five out of six children will have at least one ear infection by their third birthday.

While anyone can get an ear infection, children get them much more often than adults. Ear infections are the most common reason parents bring their children to the doctor.

Read on to learn about the different types of ear infections that can strike both children and adults, what signs to look for that indicate you or your child might have pain from an ear infection, and when to go for help.

What are the different types of ear infections, and what causes the pain from ear infections?

Ear infections typically occur in the middle ear, and there are a few different types, including:

  • Acute otitis media. This type of ear infection comes on suddenly and causes swelling and redness in the middle ear. Fluid and mucus become trapped inside the ear. Pain from ear infections and even fever can occur.
  • Otitis media with effusion (fluid). With this type of infection, fluid and mucus build up in the middle ear after an infection goes away. It can feel like your ear is full, and it might become harder to hear.
  • Chronic otitis media with effusion. With this chronic condition, fluid remains in the middle ear for a long time or builds up again and again, even though no infection is present. It can be hard to treat and may also affect your hearing.

Pain from ear infections in kids and babies

An ear infection is usually caused by bacteria and often begins after a child has had a cold or sore throat. If they have an upper respiratory infection, these bacteria can spread to the middle ear. For viruses, bacteria can sometimes come in as a secondary infection and cause fluid to build up behind the eardrum.

Ear infections are more common in young children because their eustachian tubes are smaller and more level, making it more difficult for fluid to drain out of their ears. They’re also still forming their immune systems, which can make it harder for them to fight bacteria.

How can I tell if my child has an ear infection?

Most ear infections happen to babies and toddlers before they’ve learned to talk, which can make it hard for parents to know what’s going on with them.

Here are a few things to look for if you suspect your child might be having pain from ear infections:

  • Tugging or pulling at the ears
  • Fussiness and crying
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Fever
  • Fluid draining from the ear
  • Clumsiness or problems with balance
  • Trouble hearing

Pain from ear infections in adults

As ear infections are less common in adults than children, they can sometimes (but not always) signal a more serious problem. Some adults are also at higher risk of ear infection, including those who smoke (or are around someone who smokes) or suffer from seasonal or year-round allergies.

A cold or allergy can irritate the eustachian tube or cause the area around it to swell, keeping fluid from draining properly. When fluids then build up behind the eardrum, bacteria and viruses can grow, causing an infection.

Common symptoms of middle-ear infection in adults include:

  • Pain in one or both ears
  • Drainage from the ear
  • Muffled hearing
  • Sore throat
  • Fever
  • Problems with balance

Treating an ear infection

If your child (or you) are showing symptoms or pain from an ear infection, it’s essential to see a doctor for diagnosis and treatment.

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that doctors closely observe children with potential ear infections that can’t be definitively diagnosed, especially if they’re between six months and two years old. If there’s no improvement within two or three days and pain from ear infection persists, they recommend that doctors start the child on antibiotic therapy.

Doctors will typically prescribe an antibiotic to be taken over seven to 10 days. They may also recommend over-the-counter pain relievers like acetaminophen (Tylenol) or ibuprofen (Motrin) or even prescribe ear drops to help with fever and pain from an ear infection.

Your child needs to finish all their prescribed antibiotics and follow up with the doctor to ensure the infection has cleared up.

Visit Express Medical Center

When you or your child are dealing with pain from an ear infection, you want to get relief as soon as possible. At Express Medical Center, Logansport Memorial Hospital’s walk-in clinic, our team of experienced providers is ready to help.

We can get you in with no appointment required. Get the care you need when you need it. We’re open every day, including most holidays.

Express Medical Center
3400 East Market Street (at Cass Plaza)
Phone: 574.722.9633

Monday–Friday: 8:30 a.m.–7 p.m.
Saturday: 10 a.m.–6 p.m.
Sunday: 12–6:00 p.m.

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TOPICS: Family medicine, Pediatrics