Ear conditions may be caused by problems in the ear, the neck, sinuses or head. Babies and children are more vulnerable to ear infection, especially middle ear infection.
Inflammation causing swelling and discharge in the ears can be a result of reactions to topical medicines, jewellery, cosmetics or ear plugs.
Symptoms of inner ear infections include:
- Spinning sensation
- Problems with balance or walking
- Hearing loss
- Earache or ear pain
- Ringing in the ear (tinnitus)
The most common cause of an inner ear infection is a virus. Less commonly, the cause of an inner ear infection may be bacterial.
Most ear infections that affect the outer (swimmer’s ear, otitis externa, or outer ear infection) or middle ear (otitis media) are mild and go away within one to two weeks. Inner ear disorders can last longer.
Most ear infections are infections of the middle ear (otitis media). Symptoms of middle ear infection are slightly different from inner ear infection and include ear pain, fever, and discharge from the ear canal. Since otitis media commonly occurs with an upper respiratory infection (a “cold”), other symptoms include sinus pressure, sore throat, and runny nose.
Problems hearing out of the infected ear is more common in inner ear infections than in middle ear infections.
Inner ear infections also may cause symptoms of nausea, vomiting, and dizziness, which usually are not symptoms of middle ear infections.
Medications may be prescribed to treat an inner ear infection, to reduce swelling and inflammation, to treat nausea and vomiting, and to help eliminate dizziness and vertigo (sensation of the room spinning).
An inner ear infection itself is not contagious, but the viruses and bacteria that may cause them are.
When treated promptly, most inner ear infections will resolve in a few days to about two weeks’ duration, with no permanent damage to the ear. Some inner ear infections may lead to permanent partial or total hearing loss or damage to the vestibular system, which is responsible for balance.
The only way to know if you have an inner ear infection or another ear problem is to see a doctor. If you experience symptoms of an ear infection such as ear pain, nausea, vomiting, dizziness, spinning sensation, fullness in the ear, ringing in the ear, problems with balance or walking, or hearing loss, see a doctor.
A doctor will look into the ear with an instrument called an otoscope. An otoscope helps see inside the ear canal and eardrum to see if there is redness or swelling, build up of earwax, or if there are any abnormalities in the ear. The doctor may gently puff air against the eardrum to see if it moves, which is normal. If it doesn’t, this may indicate fluid buildup in the middle ear.
Inner ear infection symptoms such as dizziness and loss of balance can resemble other medical problems, so a doctor will rule out conditions that may cause the symptoms such as head injury, heart disease, stroke, side effects of medications, anxiety, and neurological disorders.
Other ways to tell if you have an inner or middle ear infection include:
- Most ear infections are infections of the middle ear (otitis media).
- Middle ear infections are commonly associated with upper respiratory infections (common cold), and a virus or bacteria may cause them.
- They are more common in children.
- Symptoms differ slightly from inner ear infections.
- Symptoms of middle ear infection include ear pain, fever and ear discharge.
- Hearing reduction may also be noted with a middle ear infection. Since middle ear infections commonly occur with an upper respiratory infection (a “cold”), other symptoms of a middle ear infection include sinus pressure, sore throat, and runny nose.
- Nausea, vomiting, and dizziness usually are not symptoms of a middle ear infection.
What home remedies relieve ear pain and other symptoms?
Home remedies cannot treat or cure an inner ear infection, but they may help relieve ear pain and other symptoms.
- A warm compress may ease pain
- Standing or keeping your head upright while sitting can help drain the ear
- A saltwater gargle may help clear Eustachian tubes and soothe a sore throat.
- Do not smoke and limit alcohol intake
- Use stress management techniques to control emotional and psychological stress becase it can worsen symptoms
- Some natural remedies and alternative treatments are touted as treatment or cures for inner ear infections, including garlic oil or tea tree oil eardrops, apple cider vinegar, basil, olive oil, and hydrogen peroxide. Scientific studies do not show any of these to be effective.
- Some chiropractors also claim to be able to treat inner ear infections with manipulation. There are currently no studies that show chiropractic to be effective.
- A cool or warm compress. Soak a washcloth in either cool or warm water, wring it out, and then put it over the ear that’s bothering you. Try both temperatures to see if one helps you more than the other.
- Olive oil drops. While there’s no scientific evidence that proves this treatment works, the American Academy of Pediatrics says it could be moderately effective on ear pain. Put a few drops of warm olive oil in the ear that’s giving you trouble, like you would use ear drops.Olive oil or ear drops should not be used in people who have ear tubes or a ruptured ear drum.
- Try a pain reliever. Acetaminophen, ibuprofen, or naproxen can often relieve the pain of an earache. Ask your doctor which is right for you.
- Chew gum. If you’re on an airplane or driving at high altitudes and your ear pain is from the change in air pressure, chew some gum. It can help lower that pressure and ease your symptoms.
- Sleep upright. While it may sound strange, resting or sleeping sitting up rather than lying down can encourage fluid in your ear to drain. This could ease pressure and pain in your middle ear. Prop yourself up in bed with a stack of pillows, or sleep in an armchair that’s a bit reclined.
CALL THE DOCTOR NOW:
- You notice fluid (such as pus or blood) oozing out of your ear
- You have a high fever, headache, or are dizzy
- You believe an object is stuck in your ear
- You see swelling behind your ear, especially if that side of your face feels weak or you can’t move the muscles there
- You’ve had severe ear pain and it suddenly stops (which could mean a ruptured eardrum)
- Your symptoms don’t get better (or get worse) in 24 to 48 hours
- Talk to your doctor before using any home remedies for an ear infection
- An inner ear infection itself is not contagious, but the viruses and bacteria that may cause them are. To prevent infection, practice good hygiene.
- Wash your hands frequently
- Avoid sharing food and drinks, especially with someone you know to have an ear infection
- Don’t smoke and avoid secondhand smoke
- Children should be vaccinated, specifically with pneumococcal conjugate vaccine and the H. flu vaccine to protect against several types of pneumococcal and H. flu bacterial ear infections.