What Causes Ear Infections and How To Deal With Them

What are the top causes of ear infections

If you’re feeling ear pain, diminished hearing, and/or headaches, you might have an acute otitis media–also called ear infections. According to the Mayo Clinic, acute otitis media results from bacteria or a viral infection affecting the middle ear, which is where the vibrating bones are. The inflammation and accumulation of fluids handle some of those unpleasant symptoms.

To further understand what we can do about it, we need to begin by knowing what puts us in this uncomfortable and potentially dangerous situation.

Uncovering the roots of the earaches

Ear infections are often the byproduct of a cold, the flu or an allergy. These diseases cause inflammation in the throat, nasal system and Eustachian tubes, which infect the middle ear. Some people believe that a cold is a major responsibility, and they are partially right.

Trung Tristan Truong, MD, FAAP from the Memorial Care tells of a Yale study (2014) that when the temperatures are low, “… cold viruses can replicate more efficiently and the body’s immune system fighting these cold viruses may be diminished.” Thus, “… upper respiratory infections (common colds) may lead to ear infections, especially in children.”

In fact, Dr. Truong recommends his patients to give the flu vaccine to all children that are 6 months or older to prevent the infection.

The main villain in this story seems to be a lack of space because it gives bacteria and viruses the chance of accumulating in the ears. Children are susceptible to this disease because their ear channels haven’t developed enough, and the space is tight.

The Mayo Clinic also points out at the adenoids as a major cause for ear infections. They sit near the back of the nose and experts believe they take part in the immune system, which makes them vulnerable to swelling and infection.

The thing is they are really close to the Eustachian tubes, and when they swell, everything that’s around it suffers.

Following this logic, it might be a good idea to choose the headphones carefully and not use them for extended periods of time. But worrying too much about preventing ear infection might be a waste of time, according to experts.

Richard Rosenfeld, a professor of otolaryngology at SUNY Downstate Medical Center in Brooklyn, N.Y. said in an interview with USA Today, “About 70% of the risk of ear infections is caused by hereditary factors, so there is not always a lot that can be done to prevent them.”

It seems the best option is to vaccinate and seek medical attention if the symptoms last for more than a day.

The human body is equipped to deal with this kind of problem on its own. However, some cases need medical attention and can end up with severe hearing problems and other issues. Luckily, the signs are easy to see. You should see a doctor if:

  • Symptoms last over 24 hours
  • The affected is a child 6 months or younger
  • The earache is too strong
  • You can see pus, blood or fluids coming out of the ear


1. “Ear Infection (Middle Ear).” Mayo Clinic, Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research, 16 May 2018, www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/ear-infections/symptoms-causes/syc-20351616.

2. “MemorialCare Health System.” Stroke Risk Awareness Survey | MemorialCare Health System | Orange County | Los Angeles County, www.memorialcare.org/memorialcare-medical-group/find-providers/physician/trung-tristan-truong-md-faap.

3. Foxman, Ellen F., et al. “Temperature-Dependent Innate Defense against the Common Cold Virus Limits Viral Replication at Warm Temperature in Mouse Airway Cells.” PNAS, National Academy of Sciences, 20 Jan. 2015, www.pnas.org/content/112/3/827.

4. Szabo, Liz. “Expert Advice on Preventing, Treating Kids’ Ear Infections.” USA Today, Gannett Satellite Information Network, 9 Feb. 2014, www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation/2014/02/09/ear-infection-advice/4533887/.

Ear Infection Treatments: The Right Way To Deal With It

Ear Infections are a common enough occurrence that learning to treat it becomes relevant. To be specific, ear infections are a lot more likely to be affected by children. This goes far back, all the way to before they even begin going to school.

Of course, it’s often not something that one would worry about until it is there. However, parents especially should be able to identify the symptoms of ear infections and be able to treat said symptoms on their child.

If only because, according to Healthline, ear infections have a tendency of becoming chronic. Which can cause permanent damages to one’s hearing?

Listed below are the most common ear infection treatments available.

Be careful before you recur to antibiotics

Most people like to self-medicate, especially parents. When they see their children in pain, they want to look for a quick solution. However, the symptoms alone are not enough to make an accurate diagnosis.

Ear infections are easy to spot because it might look like a ‘pop-able pimple’ on the eardrum. However, that is not something you will check on your own; you’ll need a doctor.

What’s the next step when an ear infection has been confirmed?

To the frustration of the worried parents, many doctors might choose to “watch and wait” because most of the times, antibiotics are unnecessary. According to the National Prescribing Service:

“Parents should not be concerned if the doctor does not prescribe antibiotics or suggests they wait and see what happens before having a script dispensed,” stated a 2009 press release from the NPS, an Australian government-funded organization that aims to help people use medicines wisely.

If it’s not a mild case, most physicians will prescribe pain medicine, such as acetaminophen and ibuprofen, so that the person can sleep well while the antibiotics take effect. The treatment can last for a couple of weeks, depending on whether the patient is a child or an adult.

Some studies don’t approve the “watch and wait” method because of the complications that come with not treating ear infections on time. However, the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) also says antibiotics are not adequate in most cases.

Are there extreme cases of ear infection?

Ear infections are mainly caused by the accumulation of bacteria and fluid in the middle ear. The resulting inflammation handles the pain and headaches. If medicine is not working, it might be because of anatomy.

Some people’s ear cavities don’t allow for a free discharge of fluids, which means bacteria always accumulates.

These rare cases, according to WebMD, are almost only limited to children, and doctors might suggest implanting ear tubes through surgery. The latter create an exit route for liquids, and they are also common in cases of persistent middle-ear fluid.

To summarize, the solution to ear infections is not always powerful medicine. No one enjoys watching their children in pain, or be in pain, but if you really want to get rid of the problem, follow your doctor’s advice.


  1. “Ear Infections: Causes, Symptoms, and Diagnosis.” Healthline, Healthline Media, www.healthline.com/health/ear-infections. (Accessed June 1, 2018)
  2. Australian Broadcasting Corporation. “ABC Health & Wellbeing.” ABC News, Australian Broadcasting Corporation, 5 Apr. 2011, www.abc.net.au/health/thepulse/stories/2011/04/06/3183024.htm. (Accessed June 1, 2018
  3. “Antibiotic Prescribing and Use in Doctor’s Offices.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 7 Dec. 2017, www.cdc.gov/antibiotic-use/community/for-patients/common-illnesses/ear-infection.html. (Accessed June 1, 2018
  4. “WebMD Ear Infection Center – In-Depth Information on the Causes, Symptoms, and Treatments of Ear Infections.” WebMD, WebMD, www.webmd.com/cold-and-flu/ear-infection/default.htm. (Accessed June 1, 2018


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