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Ear Infections - Cause

Middle ear infections are caused by bacteria and viruses.

Swelling from an upper respiratory infection or allergy can block the eustachian tubes, which connect the middle ears to the throat. So air can't reach the middle ear. This creates a vacuum and suction, which pulls fluid and germs from the nose and throat into the middle ear. The swollen tube prevents this fluid from draining. The fluid is a perfect breeding ground for bacteria or viruses to grow into an ear infection.

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Understanding Ear Infections -- the Basics

An ear infection, or otitis media, is the most common cause of earaches. Although this condition is a frequent cause of infant distress and is often associated with children, it can also affect adults. The infection in the middle ear (the space behind the eardrum where tiny bones pick up vibrations and pass them along to the inner ear) very often accompanies a common cold, the flu, or other types of respiratory infections. This is because the middle ear is connected to the upper respiratory tract...

Read the Understanding Ear Infections -- the Basics article > >

  • Bacterial infections. Bacteria cause most ear infections. The most common types are Streptococcus pneumoniae (also called pneumococcus), Haemophilus influenzae, and Moraxella catarrhalis.
  • Viral infections. Viruses can also lead to ear infections. The respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) and flu (influenza) virus are the types most frequently found.

Inflammation and fluid buildup can occur without infection and cause a feeling of stuffiness in the ears. This is known as otitis media with effusion.

WebMD Medical Reference from Healthwise

Last Updated: January 30, 2014
This information is not intended to replace the advice of a doctor. Healthwise disclaims any liability for the decisions you make based on this information.
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