Acute Ear Infections | Otolaryngology | Loyola Medicine

Acute Ear Infections

Overview and Facts about Acute Ear Infections

Acute ear infections are a more serious form of ear infection. Although many ear infections can come and go, acute ear infections worsen rapidly. They often cause fever, irritability and stubborn pain.

Ear infections often develop after a cold or sinus infection. Irritants like pollen or cigarette smoke can also trigger one.

Children who are teething or drinking from a bottle are at a higher risk. These activities can create blockages in the ears, which may lead to infection.

Signs and Symptoms of Acute Ear Infections

In younger children, symptoms of an ear infection may include:

  • Fever
  • Irritability
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Tugging on the ear

Older children and adults may also experience:

  • Diarrhea
  • Ear pain
  • Fullness in the ear
  • Hearing loss
  • Vomiting

You may also notice fluid draining from the affected ear. Symptoms often begin after a cold or respiratory infection. Infections can occur in one or both ears.

Causes and Risk Factors of Acute Ear Infections

Blockages in the eustachian tube usually cause acute ear infections. This tube drains fluid from the middle ears.

If the tube becomes blocked, fluid builds up. The blocked fluid provides a breeding ground for infection.

Children are more prone to ear infections than adults. Other risk factors include:

  • Attending daycare
  • Drinking from a bottle or cup while lying down
  • Exposure to cigarette smoke
  • Using a pacifier

A change in altitude or climate can sometimes trigger an ear infection. Recent illnesses can also increase your risk of developing them.

Tests and Diagnosis of Acute Ear Infections

Your doctor can diagnose an ear infection through a visual exam. During this exam, your doctor checks for signs of pus, fluid or inflammation in the ears.

If you or your child have a history of ear infections, your doctor may recommend further testing.

A doctor who specializes in otolaryngology (ENT medicine) can look for structural problems in the ears. An otolaryngologist can determine whether sinus issues may also be a factor.

Treatment and Care for Acute Ear Infections

Some ear infections resolve on their own. A warm compress or over-the-counter pain relievers can help. Over-the-counter ear drops may also provide some relief.

In some cases, your doctor may prescribe antibiotics. Be sure to finish all the medication, even if symptoms improve. If you stop your antibiotics early, your infection may return.

If your child has recurring infections, your doctor may recommend surgery. Artificial ear tubes help drain fluid and prevent future infections.

Adenoid removal may also help improve drainage. An ENT specialist can provide more details about these procedures.