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Symptoms of Ear Infection

Topic Overview

Ear pain may be the first symptom of an ear infection, especially if you have moderate to severe ear pain during or shortly after you have a cold. Other symptoms of an ear infection may include:

  • Swelling, heat, or tenderness around or behind the ear.
  • Redness of the ear, ear canal, or skin around or behind the ear.
  • Drainage from the ear that does not look like earwax.
  • Itching of the ear or ear canal.
  • Fever.

Several different parts of the ear can become infected.

  • Ear pain and fever may be caused by a middle ear infection (acute otitis media), especially if cold symptoms, such as a runny or stuffy nose or a cough, have been present for a few days.
  • Ear pain may also be caused by a fluid-filled blister on the eardrum (bullous myringitis).
  • Itching, a feeling of fullness in the ear, and pain that is worse when you chew, press on the "tag" in front of your ear, or wiggle your earlobe may be caused by an infection of the ear canal (otitis externa).
  • You may have an infection of the outer ear (cellulitis).

Complications of a middle ear infection can be caused by other serious problems.

  • Redness, swelling, pain behind the ear, and fever may be caused by an infection of the bone located behind the ear (mastoiditis). Pain will get worse when you press on the bone behind the ear. This infection is rare and usually occurs 10 to 14 days after a middle ear infection.
  • Headache with severe stiff neck, irritability, confusion, and excessive sleepiness may be caused by an infection of the lining of the brain (meningitis).
  • Severe dizziness (vertigo) and hearing loss may be caused by swelling and irritation in the inner ear (labyrinthitis).

If you have symptoms of an ear infection or think that complications of an ear infection are developing, call your doctor for an evaluation.

Credits

By Healthwise Staff
Primary Medical Reviewer William H. Blahd, Jr., MD, FACEP - Emergency Medicine
Specialist Medical Reviewer H. Michael O'Connor, MD - Emergency Medicine
Last Revised January 12, 2012

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