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Ear infections in children are often mild and go away on their own. However, ear infections in adults persist for a long and may indicate some hidden cause or condition. In general, otitis externa or outer ear infections or swimmer’s ear that affect the outer ear do not persist for long, but inner ear infections can last longer for a few weeks. In the majority of the cases, a major cause of inner ear infections in adults is viruses. Sometimes, bacteria may also be the cause. Considering the magnitude of infection and potential consequences, no ear infection should be considered mild but should be taken on a serious note. Therefore, a timely approach to an ENT specialist will help prevent future complications and permanent hearing loss.

Outer Ear Infection

The outer ear consists of the parts you can see outside the body, the auricle (also known as pinna), the earlobe, and the ear canal up to the eardrum. Water that stagnates in the ear canal after bathing and swimming become an ideal spot for bacteria and viruses to flourish and causes an outer ear infection. People who spend a lot of time in water and take shower often, but do not clean their ears properly are at increased risk of outer ear infections. Outer ear infections are mild and often go away on their own.

Middle Ear infections

These infections are common. Middle ear infections cause mild to severe symptoms including severe ear pain, ear discharge and fever. These symptoms are slightly different from inner ear infections. Middle ear infections are common with or after an upper respiratory tract infection including cold, flu, allergy and sinusitis. The symptoms associated with a middle ear infection include sore throat, runny nose and pressure in the ears. The infected person may experience these symptoms.

Inner Ear Infections

The innermost part of the ear is infected by either a virus or bacteria. In this type of infection, the inner ear parts get irritated or inflamed. The symptoms that manifest may include dizziness and loss of balance and hearing due to the involvement of parts of the ear responsible for hearing and balance. The other symptoms of inner ear infection may include, earache, tinnitus (ringing in the ear), spinning sensation, nausea and vomiting. Hearing loss is a common symptom of inner ear infection.

Bottom Line

Considering the versatility of factors responsible for ear infections and potential complications – especially in adults – it is necessary for adults to see an ENT specialist at the earliest. It is better to pay close attention to your symptoms as they may indicate a more serious health condition. Even in children, the symptoms need to be monitored diligently – sometimes, ear infections in children can become more serious. One should consider ear infections as very serious because they may lead to partial or complete hearing loss or cause damage to the vestibular system, which is responsible for balancing.

Meet Dr Neetu Modgil for an accurate diagnosis and prompt treatment.