Ear infection

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Infections of the inner, middle or outer ear can affect you at any age, especially if you have a history of ear infections, sinus infections, allergies or exposure to tobacco smoke. Some ear infections, such as middle ear infections, may need antibiotic treatment, but many can get better without antibiotics.

When we think of an ear infection, it’s usually a middle ear infection, or acute otitis media. The middle ear refers to the part of the ear behind your eardrum. Anything that prevents fluid from draining from the middle ear, such as allergies, common cold or an upper respiratory infection, can cause a middle ear infection.

Children are more susceptible to middle ear infections because they have a shorter, more horizontal and narrower eustachian tube that drains fluid from the ear. Also, their adenoids can interfere with the eustachian tubes.

An outer ear infection, or swimmer’s ear, (otitis externa) affects the ear canal running from the eardrum, or tympanic membrane, to the outside of the ear. Fluid in the ear canal can provide an environment for a bacterial infection. An inner ear infection (otitis interna or labyrinthitis) affects the part just beyond the three tiny bones that transmit sound waves. It includes the snail-shaped, fluid-filled cochlea and helps with balance as well as hearing.

Norton Now includes same-day care options so you can get the care you need, when you need it and where you need it. Norton Community Medical Associates primary care offices are located across the Louisville and Southern Indiana area. Save your spot in line at a Norton Immediate Care Center or visit a Norton Prompt Care clinic for treatment of minor injuries or illnesses.

Use Norton eCare video visits or just answer a few questions online from anywhere in Kentucky or Indiana for care without coming into the office. Your provider can order drive-thru lab testing for you at Norton Healthcare Express Services if it’s needed.

Middle Ear Infection Symptoms

A middle ear infection usually starts quickly and often causes:

  • Ear pain
  • Fever
  • Irritability
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Difficulty hearing

Children and babies may also:

  • Rub or pull their ear
  • Not react to some sounds
  • Be irritable or restless
  • Be pickier with their food
  • Keep losing their balance

Outer Ear Infection Symptoms

  • Ear canal inflammation and redness
  • Ear pain
  • Fluid drainage
  • Pus discharge

Inner Ear Infection Symptoms

  • Vertigo: feeling off-balance or a spinning sensation
  • Dizziness
  • Nausea
  • Temporary hearing loss
  • Tinnitus: ringing or other unusual noises in the ears
  • Pressure or sensation of fullness in the ear
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Fatigue

When to See a Doctor


  • A fever of 102.2 F (39 C) or higher
  • Pus, discharge or fluid coming from the ear
  • Worsening symptoms
  • Symptoms that last for more than two to three days
  • Hearing loss


  • Pain doesn’t go away in a few days
  • Severe pain
  • Fever
  • Drainage
  • Difficulty hearing
  • Recurrent ear infections

A medical provider may need to see you or your child to look for a red or bulging eardrum or fluid in the middle ear.

In the meantime, these suggestions may help you feel better before visiting our team:

How to Prevent Ear Infection

While you may not be able to prevent an infection due to your ear anatomy, genetic factors, there are ways to lower risks for some infections, particularly those in the inner ear caused by colds and flu:

  • Make sure you and your child are up to date with vaccinations.
  • Breastfeed exclusively until your baby is 6 months old, and continue to breastfeed for at least 12 months.
  • Don’t smoke, and avoid secondhand smoke.
  • Wash your hands.
  • Dry your ears and wear a swim cap when swimming.
  • Don’t insert cotton swabs or other objects in your ear, and avoid products that remove ear wax.
  • Don’t use rubbing alcohol in your ears, and ask your primary care physician about ear-drying drops typically used to dry the ear after swimming.

Ear Infection Treatment Options

Most acute ear infections go away on their own and don’t require treatment. However, if your pain has lasted longer than two to three days and/or you have symptoms highlighted above, contact your health care provider.

Primary care providers may manage your condition using:

  • Antibiotics
  • Pain medication
  • Decongestants for adults
  • Antihistamine pills for those with allergies

If your pain is severe, your doctor may need to drain fluid from your ear. You may be referred to an otolaryngologist, also known as ear, nose and throat or ENT doctor. Ear infections that go untreated can cause hearing loss.

Norton Now: Care When You Need It

  • Get medical care when and where it works for you.
    • Norton Community Medical Associates primary care is your medical home. More than 35 locations across the Louisville area and Southern Indiana means there’s an office close to home, work or school. Your primary care physician knows you and your health and performs annual checkups to stay ahead of any emerging conditions. Our doctors and nurse practitioners connect you to the full Norton Healthcare system, giving you and your family easy access to the area’s leading specialty physicians.
    • More than 15 Norton Immediate Care Centers offer treatment for minor illnesses and injuries. Reserve your spot in line and we’ll text you when it’s time to check in. All Norton Immediate Care Centers are equipped with X-ray machines.
    • Norton Prompt Care clinics have same-day appointments available when you need care for yourself or your family. All locations offer extended weekday and weekend hours. Many are located within Walgreens stores.
    • Norton eCare allows you to visit with a provider via secure video or by simply answering questions online about your symptoms.
    • Emergency care is available for a very serious illness or injury that puts your life in danger. Get treatment 24/7 at nine locations in Louisville and Southern Indiana, including three locations for kids.
  • Medicaid, Medicare and most major commercial insurance plans are accepted.
  • Get test results, renew prescriptions, communicate with your health care provider, get notified if an earlier appointment becomes available and more with your free Norton MyChart account.

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