How to Recognize Ear Infection Symptoms

A man with an ear infection in New York City.

An ear infection is one of the most common conditions in both adults and children. The onset of ear infections can be quite quick, but there are some warning signs that you should be on the lookout for.


Ear infection symptoms in children include:

  • Crying more than usual
  • Ear pain when lying down
  • Pulling or tugging ears
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Loss of balance
  • Headache
  • Loss of appetite
  • Difficulty responding to sounds or hearing


In adults, ear infection symptoms are:

  • Diminished hearing
  • Drainage of fluid from the ear
  • Pain in the ear

When Should I See a Doctor?

Ear infection symptoms can be a sign of a number of conditions. Therefore, it is important that you get the right diagnosis and quick treatment. You need to call your pediatrician if you notice any of the following:

  • Discharge of fluid, blood, or pus from your child’s ear
  • Severe ear pain
  • Symptoms that persist for more than a day
  • Symptoms in an infant of 6 months or less
  • Your child is irritable or sleepless after an upper respiratory tract infection or a cold

If you experience severe ear pain with discharge, you need to visit a doctor.

What Causes Ear Infections?

The cause of most ear infections is virus or bacterium in the middle ear. Ear infections are often caused by another illness – allergy, flu, or cold – that results in swelling and congestion of the nasal passages, Eustachian tubes, and throat.

Eustachian tubes are thin tubes that start from the middle ear, ending at the back of the throat, just at the back the nasal passages. The end of the Eustachian tubes works to:

  • Refresh air in the ear
  • Control air pressure in the middle ear
  • Drain ordinary secretions from the middle ear

The presence of inflammation, swelling, and mucus in the Eustachian tubes can block them, resulting in a buildup of fluids in the middle ear. A viral or bacterial infection of fluids that accumulate in the middle ear produces the symptoms of ear infection. These infections are common in children because their tubes are more horizontal and narrow, making it more difficult for them to drain.

What is the Function of Adenoids?

Adenoids are two tiny tissue pads in the back of the nose that play a role in the activity of your immune system. This role might make them vulnerable to swelling, infection, and inflammation. Because they are close to Eustachian tube openings, swelling of the adenoids can block the tubes causing middle ear infections.

Adenoid inflammation is likely to play a role in infant ear infections because they have larger adenoids.

Related Conditions

Middle ear conditions that are related to ear infections or cause middle ear problems include:

  • Chronic suppurative otitis media – this is a persistent infection of the ear that results in perforation or tearing of the eardrum.
  • Chronic otitis media with effusion – this condition occurs when fluid stays in the middle ear and keeps returning without bacterial or viral infection. The condition makes children vulnerable to new infections of the ear and may affect hearing negatively.
  • Otitis media with effusion – this refers to buildup and inflammation in the middle ear without a viral or bacterial infection. It may occur because fluid buildup persists once the infection has been treated. It may also be caused by a non-infectious blockage or problem of the Eustachian tubes.

Risk Factors

The risk factors for ear infections are:

  • Group childcare – when children are cared for in group settings, they are more likely to get ear infections and colds than those who stay at home. In a group setting, children are exposed to more infections.
  • Age – children under 2 years are more prone to ear infections because of the shape and size of their Eustachian tubes. Moreover, at that young age, their immune systems are not strong enough.
  • Poor air quality – smoke and tobacco exposure increases the risk of ear infection.
  • Infant feeding – children who drink from a bottle while lying down usually have more ear infections than those who are breastfed.
  • Seasonal factors – ear infections are common in the winter and fall because of the prevalence of cold and flu. Persons with seasonal allergies also have greater ear infection risks during seasons with a high pollen count.


Most ear infections do not result in long-term complications. However, constant infections and fluid buildup can cause serious complications, including speech developmental delays, impaired hearing, tearing of the eardrum, and spread of infections.

If either you or your child has ear infection symptoms, you should not hesitate to book an appointment with ENT Centers of Excellence. They provide ENT care for the whole family in Foley, Alabama.

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