What are the symptoms of an ear infection ? - inner, middle, and outer ear infections
Updated: Mar 21
The following are symptoms of an ear infection in adults that can help you identify an ear infection.
Pain in the ear
Foul smelled watery discharge from the ear
Yellow/green color pus from the ear
A sensation of ear block or deafness
Experiencing ringing or other sounds in the ear – Tinnitus
Itching in the ear
This article will give you an overview of ear infections before consulting an ENT doctor. The article cannot help diagnose or treat as infections can be complicated. We have a chance of having an infection at two or more places at a time. Depending on the location symptoms and treatment will change. So, getting a diagnosis and treatment from an expert ENT doctor ASAP is required. Delay and improper self-diagnosis can lead to permanent damage. We request you to please read the full article and not skip any part to get the correct understanding.
How to know what ear infection you have?
Ear infection can occur in the outer ear, middle ear, or inner ear. These infections can spread from one part of the ear to other parts of the same ear. This article will list the symptoms of each ear infection and give you an idea of "What are the symptoms of an ear infection ?".
Inner ear infection indications
The inner part of the ear has two jobs
Deafness or ear block sensation and feeling off-balance, i.e., vertigo/giddiness, are apparent inner ear infection symptoms. You have to consult a doctor immediately when you have these two symptoms. There is a chance for the infection to propagate from the inner ear to the brain, resulting in fever, vomiting, altered sensorium, and seizures(fits).
When the inner ear is damaged there is a chance of experiencing tinnitus,i.e, ringing of the ears.
So, we can summarize those inner ear infection symptoms as
Loss of hearing
blockage of ears or clogged sensation
Most of these inner ear infections are from the middle ear and rarely from the brain.
Symptoms of middle ear infection
Symptoms of middle ear infection are
Severe ear pain
Deafness or block sensation
Tinnitus - a rare symptom
Discharge from the ear can be transparent watery consistency, a yellow or green color, thick pus, or even foul-smelling watery discharge.
Middle ear infections are secondary ear infections from the nose or sinus that can spread to the inner or outer ear. Treating infection in the nose or sinusitis can help recover or at least stop the spread of the infection. You can use Otrivin nose drops and steam inhalation to reduce the source of infection, i.e., rhinitis(common cold) or sinusitis. The idea of home treatments mentioned is to delay or prevent the disease's progression but not cure it.
You can read our article on middle ear infections.
Symptoms of an outer ear infection
Symptoms of an outer ear infection can include discharge from the ear and tenderness in the pinna. Unlike pain that can be felt anytime, in tenderness, you can feel the pain only when you touch it. So, when you touch the outer ear, you will have extreme pain.
You will have only pain in the middle ear infection, but you can have both pain and tenderness in an outer ear infection.
Causes for ear itching
Itching in the ear indicates a fungal ear infection(Otomycosis) in the outer ear. You could have an itchy ear followed by pain and an increase in the severity of the itchy feeling. You must consult an ENT doctor and get the ear cleaned, followed by anti-fungal ear drops. A delay in treatment could lead to the perforation of the eardrum. The use of earbuds is a common cause of Otomycosis.
Please read our article on Otomycosis to understand "A spike in Otomycosis cases." This article tells about the causes, symptoms, and treatment of Otomycosis. This article even tells you how self-medication is ultimately going wrong in the case of Otomycosis.
Perforation of the eardrum in outer ear infection and middle ear infection
There is a risk of eardrum perforation in middle ear infection and outer ear infection. When there is a perforation of the eardrum, the pain in the ear will come down, and ear discharge will start. The discharge could be watery or pus-type. You need to consult the doctor immediately. When treated ASAP, the eardrum can heal itself. Else, you might need major surgery to close the perforation.
How do I know if my ear is infected?
An ear infection can result in symptoms such as pain, abnormal sounds, ear block sensations or deafness, itching in the ear, and giddiness. These are the common symptoms reported by patients with ear infections.
As the infection advances, they may also experience discharge from the ear, which can sometimes be blood-stained.
In the case of masked mastoiditis or coalescent mastoiditis, there may not be any noticeable symptoms. This type of infection can worsen silently without any warning signs.
What are the three types of ear infections?
There are three types of ear infections based on the location of the infection.
Outer ear infection: Bacterial and Fungal infections can start in the outer ear, called otitis externa(swimmers ear) and otomycosis, respectively. Otomycosis is more common in humid areas than in non-humid areas.
Middle ear infection (otitis media): This is the most common type of ear infection and one of the most frequent infections in the human body. It is a secondary infection that is caused due to common cold or chronic sinusitis.
Inner ear infection: This infection affects the inner ear, which is responsible for hearing and balance. It causes symptoms like ear blockage, vertigo, and hearing loss. Inner ear infections can spread to the brain if neglected. This infection can mainly occur if the middle ear infection spreads to the inner ear. In rare cases, it spreads from the brain if there is an infection in the brain.