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Symptoms of Ear Infection - Topic Overview

Ear pain may be the first symptom of an ear infection, especially if you have moderate to severe ear pain during or shortly after you have a cold. Other symptoms of an ear infection may include:

  • Swelling, heat, or tenderness around or behind the ear.
  • Redness of the ear, ear canal, or skin around or behind the ear.
  • Drainage from the ear that does not look like earwax.
  • Itching of the ear or ear canal.
  • Fever.

Several different parts of the ear can become infected.

Recommended Related to Ear Infection

Understanding Ear Infections: Diagnosis and Treatment

If you or your child has an earache that is accompanied (in some cases) by a stuffy or runny nose and a sore throat and fever, it is likely that the ear pain is due to an ear infection.  Your doctor will examine the eardrum with an instrument called an otoscope for signs of infection -- not an easy task if the patient is a fussy infant. The doctor may also check for blockage or filling of the middle ear using a pneumatic otoscope, which blows a little air at the eardrum. This air should cause the...

Read the Understanding Ear Infections: Diagnosis and Treatment article > >

  • Ear pain and fever may be caused by a middle ear infection (acute otitis media), especially if cold symptoms, such as a runny or stuffy nose or a cough, have been present for a few days.
  • Ear pain may also be caused by a fluid-filled blister on the eardrum (bullous myringitis).
  • Itching, a feeling of fullness in the ear, and pain that is worse when you chew, press on the "tag" in front of your ear, or wiggle your earlobe may be caused by an infection of the ear canal (otitis externa).
  • You may have an infection of the outer ear (cellulitis).

Complications of a middle ear infection can be caused by other serious problems.

  • Redness, swelling, pain behind the ear, and fever may be caused by an infection of the bone located behind the ear (mastoiditis). Pain will get worse when you press on the bone behind the ear. This infection is rare and usually occurs 10 to 14 days after a middle ear infection.
  • Headache with severe stiff neck, irritability, confusion, and excessive sleepiness may be caused by an infection of the lining of the brain (meningitis).
  • Severe dizziness (vertigo) and hearing loss may be caused by swelling and irritation in the inner ear (labyrinthitis).

If you have symptoms of an ear infection or think that complications of an ear infection are developing, call your doctor for an evaluation.

    This information is produced and provided by the National Cancer Institute (NCI). The information in this topic may have changed since it was written. For the most current information, contact the National Cancer Institute via the Internet web site at http:// cancer .gov or call 1-800-4-CANCER.

    WebMD Medical Reference from Healthwise

    Last Updated: March 12, 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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