Ear infections in adults: Causes and treatments

Ear infections in adults: Causes and treatments

Ear infections are not as common in adults as they are in children, although they can be more serious.

The symptoms of ear infections in adults should be closely monitored and diagnosed by a doctor to avoid any complications.

Certain situations and actions put some people more at risk for ear infections than others. However, there are several useful steps that can be taken towards prevention and treatment. Learn more about them in this article.


Symptoms of an ear infection may include hearing changes, dizziness, and pain.
Symptoms of an ear infection may include hearing changes, dizziness, and pain.

The ear is a complicated part of the body which consists of several chambers. In each of those chambers, ear infections may strike and cause various symptoms.

The three major ear parts are known as the inner, middle, and outer ears.

Middle ear and outer ear infections are most common. Inner ear infections are less severe and are often a symptom of a particular underlying condition.

Symptoms of adult ear infections vary by location, and may include:

Discharge from the ear is a sign of a more serious problem, and should be immediately diagnosed by a doctor.

Middle ear infections

Area directly behind the eardrum is the middle ear. Infections in the middle ear are usually caused when bacteria or viruses are trapped behind the eardrum from the mouth , eyes and nasal passages. The effect is a sense of discomfort and plugged ears.

Some people may have hearing problems, because an inflamed eardrum isn’t as sensitive to sound as it needs to be. There’s always a buildup of fluid or pus behind the eardrum which can make it difficult to hear. The affected ear can sound as though it is underwater.

If the eardrum tears or bursts due to pressure build-up from the infection, fluid can drain from the ear.

A fever and general tiredness can also follow an infection in the middle ear.

Outer ear infections

The outer ear extends from the ear canal at the eardrum’s outside to the ear ‘s outer opening itself.

Outer ear infections may begin at the outside of the ear with an itchy rash. The warm, dark ear canal is the ideal place to spread the germs, and the result may be an outer ear infection.

Outer ear infections may also be caused by irritation or injury to foreign objects to the ear canal, such as cotton swabs or fingernails.

Common symptoms include a painful, swollen, and tender ear or ear canal to the touch. The skin can get red and warm until the infection disappears.

Causes and risk factors

Ear infections may be caused by viruses or bacteria, and are more common in people with weakened immune systems.
Ear infections may be caused by viruses or bacteria, and are more common in people with weakened immune systems.

In adults, ear infections are typically caused by germs such as viruses, a fungus, or bacteria. The way a person gets infected also determines what form of infection they get.

People with compromised immune systems or inflammation in ear structures may be more likely than others to get ear infections. Diabetes is another risk factor that can make people more vulnerable to ear infections.

Persons with chronic skin disorders can also be susceptible to outer ear infections, including eczema or psoriasis.

Middle ear infections

Common cold, flu, and allergies can cause infections in the middle ear. Some upper respiratory problems, such as infections of the sinus or throat, can lead to infections of the middle ear, as the bacteria migrate through the associated passages and through the Eustachian tubes.

The Eustachian tubes connect nose and throat from the ear and are responsible for controlling the ear pressure. Their role makes them clear targets for germs.

Infected Eustachian tubes can swell and prevent proper drainage, which works against middle ear symptoms.

Those who smoke or are around cigarettes can also have a greater risk of having middle ear infections.

Outer ear infections

One common infection of the outer ear is known as swimmer’s ear. People who spend a lot of time in water may be more at risk of developing this kind of infection with the outer ear.

After swimming or bathing, water which sits in the ear canal creates a perfect place for multiplying germs. Untreated water can, for this reason, be more likely to cause an outer ear infection.

When to see a doctor

In certain cases, ear infections will go away alone and a minor earache may not be a problem.

Normally, a doctor would be seen if the symptoms didn’t improve within 3 days. If there are new symptoms, such as fever or loss of balance, you should see a doctor immediately.

Every sign of discharge from the ear will need a doctor’s examination, too.


To make a proper diagnosis doctors need to know the medical history of a person. They will ask about any symptoms, as well as any medications a person takes.

The doctor can use an instrument called an otoscope to check for signs of infection on the eardrum and ear canals. A small puff of air can accompany this procedure.

Doctors can test how the eardrum responds when air is pressed against it, which can help diagnose an infection in the middle ear.


Depending on the cause, some infections will clear up without treatment. During this time, symptoms can be managed and a doctor might recommend other treatments to boost the healing process.

Antibiotics and other prescriptions

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention ( CDC), in some cases of middle and outer ear infections, the use of antibiotics by mouth for treating ear infections may not be recommended.

Treatment depends on the cause and extent of the infection, along with other a person may have health problems. Antibiotics are not effective against virus-caused ear infections.

Prescription eardrops may be the way a doctor treats such ear infections. There. are also times that drug eardrops should be used to relieve pain symptoms.

Over-the-counter medications

Drugs like acetaminophen ( Tylenol) and ibuprofen ( Advil) help many people with ear infections relieve the discomfort associated with the inflammation that accompanies them.

Decongestants or antihistamines, such as pseudoephedrine (Sudafed) or diphenhydramine (Benadryl), can also help to alleviate some symptoms , especially those caused by excess mucus in the Eustachian tube. Over-the-counter decongestants and antihistamines are also available for purchase.

Drugs like these may help eliminate the pain of the ear infection, but they are not going to treat the infection itself.

Home remedies


A lady using ear drop
Ear drops that may help with an ear infection can be purchased or they can be made at home.

Non-prescription eardrops can be useful for the treatment of mild swimmer’s ear cases. Eardrops can be made at home, or can be purchased over the counter.

A simple at-home blend can be made by making a mixture of half rubbing alcohol and half white vinegar, according to ear specialists. Using a few drops inside the ears can help the ear canal dry out and support the healing process.

Also, these drops should not be used in people who have ear tubes (T-tubes), permanent eardrum injuries or some ear surgeries.

When the infection doesn’t get better or show other symptoms, a person should stop using the drops and see their doctor.

Eardrops should not be used in an ear that has any discharge that comes from it unless a doctor prescribes it.

Ear discharge, drainage, or blood is a symptom of a greater injury, like a ruptured eardrum, which involves urgent medical treatment.


A warm compress can also help relieve the pressure that builds up in the ear. Using a pillow while resting for 20-minute periods may help to relieve pain. It should be achieved alongside other therapies for pain, including over-the-counter medications.


A few simple daily steps help prevent many ear infections. There are also some basic hygiene tips and lifestyle choices that will help prevent.

Quitting smoking is an important step in preventing infections in the upper respiratory and ear. Smoking actively affects this part of the body ‘s delicate tissues and reduces the effectiveness of the body’s immune system. Also, it causes inflammation.

Following swimming or bathing the outer ear should be properly cleaned and dried. Doctors suggest to use earplugs first to prevent having water in the ears. It may also help towel blotting and towel drying the ears and hair immediately after swimming.

A person should not use cotton swabs or other objects to clean the ears, as the ear canal and eardrum can be injured, leading to an infection.

Regular hand-washing can help avoid germ transmission which can cause ear infections. Anyone who attempts to prevent ear infections should also avoid putting their fingers in or close to their ears.

People with allergies should avoid as much as possible their allergy causes to reduce the inflammation and buildup of mucus that can lead to an infection.

Treatment of both seasonal allergies and skin disorders are further measures required to avoid ear infections.

Adult ear infections can lead to significant consequences including loss of hearing if left unchecked. An untreated infection can spread to other parts of the body as well.

A doctor will be given a diagnosis of any possible ear infection. A hearing specialist should look at patients with a history of repeated ear infections.

Guidance from a doctor can help a person relieve their symptoms and treat the infection, as well as take steps to prevent the reoccurrence of the infection.