Understanding Ear infections

The ear is made up of three parts. The outer ear includes the part you can see and the canal that leads to the eardrum. The middle ear is separated from the outer ear by the eardrum and contains tiny bones that amplify sound. The inner ear is where sounds are translated to electrical impulses and sent to the brain. Any of these three parts can become infected by bacteria, fungi or viruses, in either the ear canal, or the Eustachian tube that connects the ear to the throat. Children are particularly prone to middle ear infections (otitis media). It is estimated that around four out of five children will experience a middle ear infection at least once.

Symptoms of ear infections

The symptoms of an ear infection depend on the type, but may include:

  • earache

  • mild deafness or the sensation that sound is muffled

  • ear discharge

  • fever

  • headache

  • loss of appetite

  • itchiness of the outer ear

  • blisters on the outer ear or along the ear canal

  • noises in the ear, such as buzzing or humming

  • vertigo (loss of balance).

Causes of ear infections

Some of the many causes of ear infection and contributing risk factors include:

  • upper respiratory tract infections

  • sudden changes in air pressure, such as during airline travel

  • smaller than average Eustachian tubes

  • cleft palate

  • young age, since babies and children are more prone to ear infections

  • swimming in polluted waters

  • failing to dry the outer ear properly after swimming or bathing

  • overzealous cleaning of the ears, which can scratch the delicate tissues.

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Market Street Medical Practice

20 Market Street

Wollongong  NSW  2500

Phone  02 4229 4533

Fax       02 4229 9297


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Poisons Information 13 11 26

Radio Doctor 02 4228 5522

After Hours GP Helpline 1800 022 222

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