Ear infection

Alternative names
Otitis; Infection - ear

Otitis is any of several disorders involving infection and/or inflammation of the internal or external ear.

Causes, incidence, and risk factors
Otitis can affect the internal ear (media) or the external ear (externa). Otitis is classified according to whether it occurs suddenly and for a short time (acute) or if it occurs repeatedly or persistently over a long period of time (chronic).

Specific types of ear infection include:

  • Otitis externa - acute  
  • Otitis externa - chronic  
  • Otitis externa - malignant  
  • Otitis media - acute  
  • Otitis media -chronic  
  • Otitis media - with effusion

Any of the following symptoms may develop with otitis:

  • Earache  
  • Itching or other discomfort in the ear or ear canal  
  • Drainage from the ear  
  • Hearing loss  
  • Ear noise or buzzing  
  • Fever  
  • Chills  
  • Irritability  
  • Malaise (feeling of general illness)  
  • Nausea, vomiting  
  • Diarrhea

Signs and tests
Physical examination of the ears, with or without an instrument (otoscope), may show signs of otitis. For example, symptoms of otitis externa that may be seen during an examination include a red, painful external ear, while otitis media symptoms include redness or swelling of the eardrum.

Treatment usually includes antibiotics or other antimicrobials, depending on the suspected cause of the infection.

Expectations (prognosis)
Most types of ear infection respond readily to treatment. If there is no improvement after three days, the antibiotic regimen may need to be altered.

Calling your health care provider
Call for an appointment with your health care provider if you develop symptoms of otitis.

Johns Hopkins patient information

Last revised: December 4, 2012
by Janet G. Derge, M.D.

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All ArmMed Media material is provided for information only and is neither advice nor a substitute for proper medical care. Consult a qualified healthcare professional who understands your particular history for individual concerns.