Menu Close

A Guide to Ear Infections in Adults

We all know that ear infections are fairly common in toddlers and children, but did you know that adults can be prone to them as well? If you find that you have been in pain in your ears and it just isn’t going, it could be that you have an ear infection. While they tend not to happen as often as they do with children, adult ear infections can be very painful and could actually be a sign that something more serious is going on.

Because of this, it’s important to keep an eye on your symptoms and seek medical advice if you’re in a lot of pain or you’re not getting any better. As with most things, it’s best to get checked sooner rather than later to prevent you from becoming very poorly.

What is an ear infection?

An ear infection is a type of infection that affects either the inner, middle or outer ear. It can be caused by a viral or bacterial infection, such as a cold or the flu, or debris that has gotten into the ear and is irritating your ear canal.

Inner ear infections are caused by viral or bacterial infections and tend to affect both children and adults. Middle ear infections are more common in children and typically affect the eustachian tube – this is the most common type of ear infection in children. An outer ear infection tends to affect adults more commonly and particularly those aged 45 to 75. This is caused by irritation to the ear such as water getting in there or ear plug usage.

All of these types of infections have common symptoms and your doctor can help you to determine what type of ear infection it is that you are suffering from as well as prescribe the best treatment for you.

What are the most common symptoms of an ear infection?

Ear infections have a few different symptoms, with the most common one being pain in your ear. This could be a dull ache or a sharp pain depending on the type of infection that you have. Some other common symptoms include:

• Difficulty hearing sounds and ears feeling blocked
• A raised temperature
• Nausea and vomiting
• Feeling lethargic and not having any energy
• Discharge that comes out of the ear
• A consistent feeling of pressure or fullness inside the ear
• Irritation or itching to the ear
• Redness around the outside of the ear

These are some of the most common symptoms of an ear infection and when they start to develop, you want to do your best to keep an eye on them. It could be that you start with just one symptom and then develop the others.

How long do ear infections tend to last?

When it comes to ear infections, the majority of them clear up at home within about three days, however, symptoms can sometimes last for longer and need stronger treatment in order for them to go away.

What are some treatments for ear infections?

One of the first steps, when you have an ear infection, is to take over-the-counter medications such as ibuprofen or paracetamol to try and help manage the pain. Ibuprofen is an anti-inflammatory so can help with any swelling, while paracetamol can help with the pain, and also deal with other symptoms such as keeping your temperature down.

You could also try pressing a warm flannel to the ear and gently removing any discharge that leaks from the ear with cotton wool. While it is tempting, avoid putting anything in your ear such as a cotton bud, as this can further irritate it and make the infection worse. You should also not let water or shampoo get in your ear when you are in the bath or shower. If your infected ear gets wet, this can make the infection worse and more painful. Something else that people often do is take decongestants or antihistamines, but there is no proof that these help with an ear infection and could make it worse.

If you find that you are taking over-the-counter medications but your symptoms are not improving, it’s worth getting in touch with your doctor. They will be able to assess you and sort out a better treatment plan for your ear infection, such as antibiotics.

When you head to your doctor, they will take a look at your ear with an otoscope. By using this, they can get a clearer idea of what is going on and what may be causing your ear infection. Sometimes, they will blow some air into the ear so they can get a better look at your ear canal, which will help them to diagnose the issue – they may also look at your ‘good’ ear to see what the infected one would normally look like. During the examination, they will be assessing what sort of fluid is in your ear and if it’s clear or contains pus, as well as how your eardrum moves and reacts and if it’s swollen.

If they suspect you have suffered some hearing loss due to your ear infection, they also might do a hearing test. This will help determine the extent of the damage and also if they think it will be permanent or just temporary while the infection clears up.

What will a doctor prescribe to help with an ear infection?

Once your doctor has identified the sort of ear infection you have, they will prescribe a treatment. For middle ear infections, this tends to be a course of antibiotics to take orally or applied to the site of the infection through ear drops. For outer ear infections, they will clean the ear and then prescribe antibiotics to help clear up the bacterial infection. For some viral infections, there isn’t much that can be done except for pain management, as the infection should clear up on its own.

How can you prevent getting an ear infection in the future?

Ear infections are not fun and you want to do what you can to avoid getting them in the future – particularly once you have experienced how painful they are! There are many ways you can try and prevent ear infections but remember sometimes these things do just happen.

• Wash your hands regularly and thoroughly with soap
• Avoid contact with people that have a cold or flu
• Always dry your ears properly after going swimming or taking a shower
• Stop smoking
• Maintain a healthy diet
• Manage your allergies correctly
• Rest up when you have a cold
• Have your flu vaccine and any others that are recommended to you

Prevention is always better than cure, so do what you can in order to try and stop yourself from getting an ear infection.

As said above, ear infections in adults are less common than in children, but they can definitely still happen and might need medical intervention. If you leave it for too long, it could end up causing long-term damage to your hearing as well as the infection potentially spreading. If you do have hearing loss or any long-term damage, be sure to speak to the team at VIP Hearing Solutions who would be happy to answer any questions you have.