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What Are the Causes of Ear Infection?

by Jennifer Kirby
  • Overview

    What Are the Causes of Ear Infection?
    What Are the Causes of Ear Infection?
    Although an estimated 75 percent of children have had at least one ear infection by age 3, most children stop having them by age 5, according to the Mayo Clinic. Adults rarely get ear infections, but when they do, treatment is similar to that recommended for children with ear infections. Although ear infections can be uncomfortable and painful, they usually clear up within 3 days.
  • Symptoms

    Children and adults with an ear infection may complain of ear pain, have temporary hearing loss and develop a fever of 100 degrees or higher, according to the Mayo Clinic. Adults may also experience dizziness or the sensation of blockage in the ear. Children may also have headaches, have trouble sleeping, cry or fuss more than usual, tug at their ears or have clear fluid draining from the ears.
  • Viral Infection

    The most common cause of an ear infection is a viral infection, such as a cold, according to the Mayo Clinic. This viral infection makes the middle ear lining swell, which allows fluid to build up behind the eardrum.
  • Blocked Eustachian Tubes

    Blockage or swelling in the tubes connecting the middle ear and the nose, called Eustachian tubes, can cause ear infections. If the Eustachian tubes are blocked, fluid can get caught in the middle ear, causing ear pain and infection, according to the Mayo Clinic. Children's Eustachian tubes are shorter and more narrow than adults', making them more prone to blockage, which is one reason children are more susceptible to ear infections than adults are.
  • Swollen Adenoids

    If the adenoids, which are tissues located near the Eustachian tubes in the upper throat, get infected or swollen, they may block the Eustachian tubes, causing an ear infection, according to the Mayo Clinic. An infection in the adenoids can also spread to the Eustachian tubes.
  • Weak Immune Systems

    Another reason for the prevalence of ear infections among children, especially as compared with adults, is that their immune systems are still immature. Until the immune system is fully developed, children are more likely to develop many illnesses, including ear infections, according to the Mayo Clinic.
  • Treatment

    For children as well as adults, an ear infection usually goes away on its own within a few days, although over-the-counter medicine such as ibuprofen or acetaminophen, if needed, can provide pain relief while you wait it out. In some cases, your doctor may prescribe an antibiotic such as amoxicillin, although antibiotics won't help an ear infection caused by a virus, according to the Mayo Clinic.

    References & Resources