Ear Infections

Hearing Loss Your Health

About This Condition

About Ear Infections

Every parent knows the helpless feeling that comes from consoling a child with an ear infection (otitis media). Although many ear infections clear up on their own, some don’t. And some children get them all the time.


In a typical ear infection, the middle ear (behind the eardrum) gets inflamed and fills with fluid. This is called otitis media.

Most short-term or acute ear infections usually go away on their own. If they keep coming back, they’re called recurrent. Recurrent ear infections can lead to fluid buildup in the middle ear that doesn’t clear up. When this happens, it is called a chronic or long-term ear infection.


An ear infection is usually caused by bacteria or viruses that get into the body through the nose and mouth. Places where a large number of children are together (daycare centres, for example) help germs to spread more easily. Respiratory infections, allergies, and air pollutants (such as secondhand cigarette smoke) can also lead to ear infections.


Babies and toddlers often start with pulling or scratching at the ear, along with hearing problems, fever, drainage from the ear, irritability, and vomiting.

In older children and adults, symptoms include earache, hearing problems, fullness or pressure in the ear, fever, drainage from the ear, dizziness and loss of balance, and nausea or vomiting.

Symptoms without pain or fever can also mean that there’s fluid in the ear and should be looked into.

Risk Factors

Babies and toddlers are more at risk for ear infections because their ear and throat anatomy is not yet fully developed. They’re also at risk if they spend time in daycare centres around many other children.


Your doctor will perform a careful examination, get a history of symptoms, and do a few simple tests. He or she will want to find out how freely the eardrum can move, how well the Eustachian tube is functioning, if there is fluid in the middle ear, and if any hearing loss has occurred.

Irritability and ear rubbing in babies don’t necessarily mean there’s an infection or a serious ear problem. A complete examination and symptom history can help your doctor make an accurate diagnosis and possibly avoid the use of unnecessary antibiotics.

Information on this site should not be used as a substitute for talking with your doctor. Always talk with your doctor about diagnosis and treatment information.