Encyclopedia Home / E / Ear infection - acute

Ear infection - acute

  • Alternative Names

    Otitis media - acute; Infection - inner ear; Middle ear infection - acute


    In infants, the clearest sign is often irritability and inconsolable crying. Many infants and children develop a fever or have trouble sleeping. Parents often think that tugging on the ear is a symptom of an ear infection, but studies have shown that the same number of children going to the doctor tug on the ear whether or not the ear is infected.

    Symptoms in older children or adults include:

    • Ear pain or earache
    • Fullness in the ear
    • Feeling of general illness
    • Vomiting
    • Diarrhea
    • Hearing loss in the affected ear

    The child may have symptoms of a cold, or the ear infection may start shortly after having a cold.

    All acute ear infections include fluid behind the eardrum. You can use an electronic ear monitor, such as EarCheck, to detect this fluid at home. The device is available at pharmacies, but you still need to see your doctor to confirm any possible ear infection.

    Signs and tests

    You will be asked if there have been any ear infections in the past, and whether your child (or you, if you are the patient) have had any recent cold or allergy symptoms.

    The health care provider will perform a physical exam. This will include an examination of the throat, sinuses, head, neck, lungs, and ears. The health care provider looks inside the ears using an instrument called an otoscope. If infected, there may be areas of dullness or redness, or there may be air bubbles or fluid behind the eardrum. The fluid may be bloody or filled with pus. The health care provider will also check for any signs of perforation (a hole) in the eardrum.

    A hearing test may be recommended if there is a history of persistent (chronic and recurrent) ear infections.