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Ear Infections - Topic Overview

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This topic covers infections of the middle ear, commonly called ear infections. For information on outer ear infections, see the topic Ear Canal Problems (Swimmer's Ear). For information on inner ear infections, see the topic Labyrinthitis.

The middle ear camera.gif is the small part of your ear behind your eardrum. It can get infected when germs from the nose and throat are trapped there.

A small tube connects your ear to your throat. These two tubes are called eustachian tubes camera.gif (say "yoo-STAY-shee-un"). A cold can cause this tube to swell. When the tube swells enough to become blocked, it can trap fluid inside your ear. This makes it a perfect place for germs to grow and cause an infection.

Ear infections happen mostly to young children, because their tubes are smaller and get blocked more easily.

The main symptom is an earache. It can be mild, or it can hurt a lot. Babies and young children may be fussy. They may pull at their ears and cry. They may have trouble sleeping. They may also have a fever.

You may see thick, yellow fluid coming from their ears. This happens when the infection has caused the eardrum to burst and the fluid flows out. This isn't serious and usually makes the pain go away. The eardrum usually heals on its own.

When fluid builds up but doesn't get infected, children often say that their ears just feel plugged. They may have trouble hearing, but their hearing usually returns to normal after the fluid is gone. It may take weeks for the fluid to drain away.

Your doctor will talk to you about your child's symptoms. Then he or she will look into your child's ears. A special tool with a light lets the doctor see the eardrum and tell whether there is fluid behind it. This exam is rarely uncomfortable. It bothers some children more than others.

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