Do your ears feel sore? Have trouble hearing? You may have an ear infection. Ear infections are caused by bacteria, viruses and occasionally (but hardly ever), yeast. An ear infection can happen in your outer ear, your inner ear or your middle ear.
Outer ear infection
An outer ear infection happens when the skin tissue that covers your ear canal becomes infected, usually with bacteria. This can happen if you spend a lot of time in water (e.g. pools and the ocean). It also happens if you’ve injured your ear canal by inserting objects in it (e.g. a cotton earbud used to remove wax). Your ear becomes inflamed and you can feel sick with dizziness, vomiting and nausea.
Luckily, outer ear infections aren’t usually severe and often get better without needing treatment. For more severe cases, your doctor will prescribe antibiotic drops. You can use these drop for up to 10 days, along with steroid medication (also prescribed by your doctor) to help reduce swelling. If the infection was caused by fungus, antifungal drops may be prescribed. Over-the-counter medications are a good source of quick pain relief.
- Keep water out of your ears while they heal. Dry your ears well with a towel after swimming or avoid swimming.
- Use a cotton ball or soft earplugs to prevent water from entering your ears when you shower or bathe.
- Avoid scratching your inner ear (e.g. with an earbud).
- Avoid removing ear wax on your own.
Middle ear infection
This is an infection just behind your eardrum, caused by a build-up of pus. An infection like this can irritate your Eustachian tubes, the small tubes that run from your middle ear to your upper throat. This is usually caused by viruses like the common cold and tends to happen a lot in children. Some middle ear infections are caused by bacteria which needs a different type of treatment.
With most middle ear infections, antibiotic drops may be used to heal the infection. To ease the pain, over-the-counter painkillers can help. But, if the infection causes scarring to your eardrum, antibiotics will not be enough. In a case like that, surgery would be needed to remove the infected tissue and scars from the middle ear. If there’s still fluid after your infection or too much during the infection, your doctor may recommend that your ears be drained.
Home remedies to help ease the pain may include:
- A warm compress to lessen pain (e.g. a moist, warm cloth).
- Over the counter painkillers.
Inner ear infection
This ear infection is not very common and is usually caused by a virus. The most common symptom here is inflammation of your inner ear. Other symptoms include hearing and balance difficulties. These include dizziness, vertigo (struggling to balance) and ringing in the ears (tinnitus).
Over the counter medication will usually treat symptoms of nausea, pain and vomiting, while steroids help with swelling and inflammation. Antibiotics may be given to treat the infection. If your vomiting worsens, see your doctor immediately. Excessive vomiting can cause dehydration and you may need treatment with intravenous (IV) fluids.
- Use a warm compress to help ease the pain.
- Gargle with salt to ease the pain in your throat and clear your inner ear of fluid.
- Keep your head up or stand to help drain your ears.
- Try to remain calm and use stress relief techniques to ease your symptoms.
- Tea tree oil ear drops, apple cider vinegar or olive oil may help with your inner infection symptoms. Talk to your doctor before trying any of them.