Ear Infections: How's This For Poetic Justice?

Yeah, I have an ear infection (otitis media). So, why not take this opportunity to describe what an ear infection is, why it hurts, and what you can do about it.

Otitis media literally means "middle ear inflammation," but it really refers to the build-up of infected fluid in the spaces in the middle ear, behind the ear drum, which are usually filled with air. This causes pressure to accumulate in this space, which translates to pain and the feeling of "ear fullness." The pressure can distort the ear drum slightly, which also causes pain and a reduced ability to hear in that ear. Children get these types of infections much more commonly than adults.

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Above is a side-view diagram of the outer, middle, and inner ear. Specifically, notice the canal in the ear called the Eustachian tube. This tube connects the middle ear to the throat, and is important in the equalization of pressure. Ever notice that when you are flying, pressure builds up--and by swallowing/drinking/etc you can clear out this pressure? That is because of the Eustachian tube. However, as it is connected to the throat, this presents a very convenient highway for bacteria from the throat to travel to the middle ear and cause an infection. As to why children get more frequent ear infections, its purely a physical problem: they are smaller, and their Eustachian tubes are shorter than adults. This equates a much smaller distance that infective bacteria have to travel. The fact that a child's immune system is less developed also plays a role.

So, the "ideal" conditions for otitis media to occur is when a person already has a throat or sinus infection, and this infection travels via the Eustachian tube to the middle ear. Streptococcus pneumoniae and Haemophilus influenzae are the most common bacterial causes of otitis media, although it can also be caused by Moraxella catarrhalis, a gram-negative, aerobic, oxidase positive diplococcus. The common cold can also induce otitis media.

In severe cases, the build up of pressure can cause the rupture of the ear drum (this is also a surgical option to remove the fluid). While this sounds traumatic, it *does* relieve the pain, and in almost all cases, the ear drum heals itself. Otitis media usually resolves itself, although antibiotics can be prescribed to treat the infection. In children, a common protocol is to wait 72 hours after the onset of infection to prescribe antibiotics, in the interest of using these drugs as sparingly as possible as to not induce drug-resistent forms of bacteria from propagating.

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I just wanted to thank everyone for the advise, and signs of the Otitis media, this pain in my ear has been the worst ever, I'm a musician and i cannot have these types of problems, so i guess i will be heading to the doctors office first thing in the morning.
James G.

soo, your explaination really helped me. i have an ear infection at the moment, first of my lifetime, and im 16 years old. I was really curious as to what exactly it was. so, though you probably wrote this a while ago, (idk, i didnt check dates or anything honestly), it helped. so thank you (:

Thanks for making this page. I've found it very informative and helpful.
I've got a painful case of otitis right now. I didn't know about Eustachian tubes -very funny as everytime I burp my ear clears for as second! Then it goes back to feeling "full". My ear infections are less frequent now, but I had them often as a baby, and I had tubes.
When this infection clears up I'm going to try the netipot remedy mentioned above. I also have some issues with congestion, so, it sounds like something that would help me regardless. Has anyone else ever found that to help your ear infections?
My ears also accumulate a lot of ear wax in a short time. I wonder if that's because of my history with infections. Does anyone else get a lot of wax? What's the best way to clean that? I've heard olive oil drops, then rinsing with warm water. Is there any way to control wax production, so it doesn't produce so much?

I have had the worst middle-ear infection of my life the last few days. Yesterday I thought I caught a break when something ruptured and some fluid started coming out along with a couple drops of blood, but the next night I was in agony again, worse than before.

One thing I've found though, when nothing else eases the pain (not heat, or Tylenol, or ibuprofen), a vibrator on just the right spot does the trick, at least as long as you can hold it there.

Yea, I know, who gets this desperate?

But I wonder if maybe it will help it drain? I can't go to work with this thing taped to my head, lol.

for two weeks now my right ear has been ringing and it feels full and like i need to relieve pressure out of it before it explodes! I wouldnt say it hurts but it defenately gets uncomfortable, it also feels like ive lost part of my hearing, is this also caused by middle ear infection and is it the same as PET?

From Anna,

Hi all, Back in May my ears were stopped up with wax in them. Twice before I went & had them cleaned out I felt like there was water in my ear. One time I put my finger in there & got out wet. It didn't smell like ear wax it was just wet. Then I went & had my ears cleaned on May 12th. The nurse uses a water pick thing. She put it in my ear and turned it on. I told her it hurt. She's cleaned my ears out several times before. After she took it out I still couldn't hear good. She used a thing with a hook to get the wax out of my ears after that. Still noticed I wasn't hearing as well as I used to. Went home to see what would happen. My ear started to hurt so I called the Dr. back & went in and told him the ear hurt and it felt like there was water in it so he put me on some nose spray for a month and said if that didn't help to call him & he would send me to an ENT. Spray didn't help so I went to an ENT. Before I went to him I had stopped the Nose Spray and my ear really started to hurt again. It also started to burn some and ring some. And I still couldn't hear out of it good. I could hear some but not well. I told him when I went that I wondered if my ear drum was busted or if I had water behind the ear. He checked for both and said the ear drum wasn't busted & there was no water behind my ear. I mentioned it hurt and about the burning. He had no reaction. He just the nose spray wouldn't hurt me. He had the personality of a wall. This morning I woke up & my cheek on that side hurt a little. I can also hear myself chew on that side. Don't know to do now. I'm afraid I won't get my hearing back. Anyone here have a similar experience? What happened with your hearing if you did? I can hear the dial tone on a phone. So I can hear some. Just not as good as it should be. Doesn't it sound like my hearing could be permantely messed up? Can also hear myself chew.

Symptoms Ear:

loss of hearing
feels full or like water is it
can hear myself chew
cheek hurts a little
Your friend,


Had a blocked ear and was using eartex to clear it 3 days later i went to my Docter because i had a swollen ear and mild pain. He prescribed amoxicilin and that was it only. 2 days later im in A&E can hardly talk or even think and am in extemem pain. Doctor saw me ear and was shocked at how it was so errr out of place...lol was so swollen it had moved out of position and my jaw throat and eye were all sore...........damn.. He prescribed Amoxicilin and a anti-inflammitory which was not given to me by the doctor and also gave me painkillers. was in a lot of pain but 2 days later i was feeling better.
To be honest i was pissed at my Doctor because i told him what would happen and that this had heappened before. And being prescribed a mild dose of antibiotics, no anti-inflammitory and no pain relief has now made me change doctor...

To be honest as an adult 35 years, if you get it you must make sure you get a anti-inflammitory to stop the swelling as this produces most of the pain....anyway later...1

By Paul Said (not verified) on 24 Aug 2010 #permalink

I have used listerine antiseptic (gold one not the mint flavored)for years on many ailments listed from acne , athletes foot, various rashes and ear aches. It has Always worked for me and my three children. I simply soak a q-tip and quench the ear canal using gravity until drum is silenced from the mouthwash. Then gently swab and drain. I then lay their head on m lap. And create a slight Vacuum by inhaling against the ear. It relieves the pressure and feels good. Eventually a large deposit of infectious wax comes loose usually in 1 clump. along with doctors treatment it has done no harm. Although the Dr. Has. Never condoned my treatment he agreed with theory of germ elimination in the ear canal. Check with your sawbones official before tryin this anyway. I'm no expert.

By aVerage joel (not verified) on 08 Feb 2011 #permalink

I have used listerine antiseptic (gold one not the mint flavored)for years on many ailments listed from acne , athletes foot, various rashes and ear aches. It has Always worked for me and my three children. I simply soak a q-tip and quench the ear canal using gravity until drum is silenced from the mouthwash. Then gently swab and drain. I then lay their head on m lap. And create a slight Vacuum by inhaling against the ear. It relieves the pressure and feels good. Eventually a large deposit of infectious wax comes loose usually in 1 clump. along with doctors treatment it has done no harm. Although the Dr. Has. Never condoned my treatment he agreed with theory of germ elimination in the ear canal. Check with your sawbones official before tryin this anyway. I'm no expert.

By aVerage joel (not verified) on 08 Feb 2011 #permalink

What are you five years old? Who gets an earache as an adult? Oh, me.

I was out eating barbecue one night and decided to skip the movie because I had this tingle in my ear. A couple hours later I was in the ER.

I hope you caught it earlier. : )

You didn't mention the wondrous glory of ear tubes!

I'm serious. I think they're truly unbelievable, a wonderful invention.

My son, when he was a baby, caught his first ear infection around 3 months old, right around the time that he *stopped* being colicy. From that point forward, his ears *never* completely cleared up. He'd be on a course of antibiotics; when a course ended, within 3 days, he'd be feverish again. Finally, when he was 11 months old, and he was showing signs of hearing loss due to the fluid in his ears, we gave up, and went to an ENT to have ear tubes put in.

It took less than five minutes to put the tubes in - including the time to put him under anesthesia. (It's actually pretty cool; the doctor showed us how it works in order to relax us and convince us that it wasn't a big deal. Basically, they've got a gadget that looks like a cross between a syringe and a gun. It's got a fiber optic scope. They just put the thing into the ear, sight the position they want to put the tube using the fiber scope, and squeeze a trigger; it punches a hole for the tube, inserts the tube, and sucks out the fluid behind the eardrum in one smooth motion, and it's done.)

And from the day they went in, he was a *different kid*. His entire personality changed overnight, from a grumpy difficult kid to a happy easy-going little guy. The tubes fell out naturally about 9 months later. He never had another infection that needed to be treated after the tubes. (Still caught one or two, but the only way we knew it was because we'd see some gunk draining out of his ears. No fevers, no pain, no antibiotics.)

I've also got an adult friend who's got ear tubes; he basically has new ones put in every year or two. He's even more enthusiastic about how amazingly wonderful they are than I am. He couldn't hear, and was constantly sick for his entire childhood. In his twenties, he got tubes for the first time. And it was exactly the same deal as with my son; overnight, everything improved. No more sick all the time, no more not being able to hear. He's had tubes in his ears for something like *20 years* now.

When I was in music school I had a very interesting ear infection: it affected my pitch perception in one ear, so that when I heard a note, each ear would report a different frequency to my brain. I heard the beat frequencies in what seemed to be the middle of my head. It made the ear-training exams very interesting!

Damn. I feel for you girl. I just had another one a couple months ago. I used to get them every year from age 13 to 19 when I would get the flu. So every year I got tubes put in. OUCH!!! Lemme tell ya. I would rather let the sombitch rupture. The last time I had tubes put in the doctor hit a freakin' nerve or something with the anesthesia and the right side of my face went numb for a little while. To this day when my right ear pops the right side of my tongue briefly goes numb. Trippy. The anesthesia was the worst part of the whole procedure for me. It always hurt like a mother and I've got a pretty high tolerance for pain.

You should try putting a sock filled with warm rice on your ear. It really helps take a lot of the sharp pain away. The sock forms nicely to the shape of your ear and the rice stays warm for some time so you don't have to keep reheating it over and over. Just my two cents. Hope you feel better. I feel for ya.

Something that has worked for me in mild media otitis. If it is one ear only, before bed I'll take one 12 hour antihistimine (has a drying effect, but it needs to be strong, like benedryl or pseudo-fed :-) and 2 - 3 ibuprofins (200 - 600 mg, described by Doctor as a "child dosage") for the anti-inflammatory effect, and then sleep on the opposite ear with my mouth open. I have found that this can lead to a draining of the eustachia into the throat (in the morning rinse throat thoroughly with coffee ;-) and reduce fluid build up. I get roughly one infection a year.

I've also been a lifelong sufferer of ear infections and finally discovered an almost free, completely non-invasive solution (recommended to me by another sufferrer who literally dealt with this problem for forty years before researching and finding a good solution). I've gone from about 4-5 infections/year to maybe one.

There's some kind of drainage issue with my right ear that seems to cause the infections. That coupled with what I've discovered to be an allergy to dairy protein seemed to be the main causes.

But the 'cure' has been a simple, holistic, preventative thing called "Jala Neti". I've recommended this to several friends and the two who have taken it seriously say it has changed their lives (certainly changed mine).

In a nutshell, it's pouring saline solution through your nose. So long as the water temperature and salinity are right, you barely feel it (does take a slight bit of getting used to).

Apparently the two sides of your sinuses are connected, so you put the warm saline into a 'neti pot' (a watering can optimized for your nostrils), tilt your head to one side, stick the nozzle in the top nostril, and tilt to pour. The water comes out the other side. That's it. You pour half the pot on each side, clearing your nose after each side. Then you sharply blow out each nostril with your head tilted down and looking straight to dry out the excess water. The whole thing takes 3-5 minutes (including warming the water in the microwave and mixing the salt). If you're really congested sometimes you have to sit there and let the water do its work.

The best pot I've found comes from http://www.healthandyoga.com - it's stainless steel, ergonomic, cheap, and indestructable. Comes with instructions. For salt, I just buy non-iodized table salt from the supermarket - talk about a cheap solution.

I do this preventatively twice a day, though people without my anatomical issues can probably stick to doing it when they start to feel a cold coming on, are congested, etc.. It's also more important for me to do it in the winter when the air is really dry.

Good luck!


i have a ear infection and i can not here out of it will i be able to here out of it ever again

By Laura Helen (not verified) on 11 Apr 2007 #permalink

Going to see a Ear specialist on 6/15 for an Middle Ear Infection. God dos it hurt!!! I'm almost wanting to pierce the damn ear drum myself just to release the preasure. I wish I had swimmers ear then I could push the fluid out myself by pinching my nose and closing my mouth and pushing air out through my ears.. Then I could take some Coloidal Silver 20PPM and kill the infection in a day.. But alas, my ear drums are sealed water tight...

what do you do when after you have had a ear infection your ear still feels full and pops? It has been about four or five months since my infection and my hearing is still not right. I have this weird feeling like my ear needs to clear but it never does. What do I do? This is not comfortable at all!

SB: You should see a otolaryngology (ENT) ASAP! You may be causing serious, irreparable damage to your hearing by waiting so long.

I don't know if I have an ear infection or not. But I am having alot of pain that feels like its in my inner ear and alot of pain in my jaw(where my jaw connects) it swallon as well.

If you can give me any information I would appricate it.

Thank you

Hello I think what you did here is great but I think you should add like links and gamees to your page so you could really upgrade it!

By Eadirldja Holzendas (not verified) on 28 Nov 2007 #permalink

I have had very bad ear and nasel congestion for 18 days now and been back to my Doctors twice can anyone suggest a way of clearing the fluid in my ears i have been taking Sudafed and Otrivine to clear this but it hasn't wirked yet

By Louise Malpas (not verified) on 18 Jan 2008 #permalink