Ear infections are one of the most common pediatric conditions, with nearly three out of four children experiencing at least one ear infection by the time they reach adulthood. While not as common, adults are still susceptible to them, and if they do not resolve within a reasonable amount of time it may be a sign of a more serious health problem. In most cases, ear infections clear up on their own, but there are times when medical attention should be sought out. So when should you see an Ear, Nose, Throat specialist (ENT doctor) for an ear infection?

What Do ENT Specialists Do?

These are medical professionals who diagnose and treat patients that have health issues relating to the ears, nose, and throat. This can include any of the following:

  • Nose conditions that cause difficulties with smell, breathing, and the physical appearance of the nose. This includes sinus issues and issues with the nasal cavity.
  • Throat conditions that affect speech, eating, swallowing, singing, or digestion.
  • Health conditions related to your head or neck. This can be anything from trauma, deformities, diseases, tumors, or managing problems with the nerves in the head and neck that impact hearing, smell, sight, and facial movements.
  • Ear conditions like hearing impairment, balance disorders, ear pain, ringing in the ear (tinnitus), ear infections, and congenital ear defects.

When it comes to the ear specifically, you may seek out an ENT doctor if you’ve sustained an injury to the ear, have pain in the ear, have frequent ear infections, hearing impairments, have tinnitus, or develop growths in the ear.

What Types of Ear Infections Are There?

There are 3 main types of ear infections that commonly occur.

  1. Outer Ear Infection (Otitis Externa). Also known as “swimmer’s ear” as it often results due to water remaining in the ear after swimming or bathing. If water does not drain properly, it can result in bacteria or fungal growth, leading to an infection of the outer ear canal if the canal is scratched or cut. The symptoms for this include pain, swelling, redness of the ear canal, itchiness of the canal, or muffled hearing.
  2. Middle Ear Infection (Otitis Media). If fluid builds up and gets trapped behind the eardrum, it can cause your eardrum to bulge with swelling in the middle ear preventing the fluid from draining properly. This leads to symptoms of pain (earache), fullness in the ear, decreased ability to hear, and some fluid drainage. In severe cases, symptoms may include fever, vomiting, weight fluctuations, and poor feeding in children. It can be caused by the common cold, sinus infections, or allergies.
  3. Inner Ear Infection (Labyrinthitis). The labyrinth (inner ear structure) is responsible for balance and hearing and can become swollen and inflamed, causing an inner ear infection. Symptoms may include dizziness, nausea, vomiting, loss of balance, hearing loss, earache, and vertigo. Sometimes an inner ear infection can be caused by a virus or bacteria, and if not treated promptly can lead to damage to the vestibular system (balance).

When to Seek Out an ENT for an Ear Infection?

You should seek out immediate medical attention for an ear infection if any of the following points apply to you or your child:

  • If your symptoms do not disappear within 1-3 days.
  • Frequent ear infections that occur one after another. This can lead to loss of hearing.
  • A fever that is above 100.4 degrees as a high fever may indicate a more serious infection that may need antibiotics to resolve.
  • Symptoms of an ear infection in a child who is younger than 6 months of age. This includes severe pain, high fever, infection in both ears, or a ruptured eardrum.
  • Discharge coming from the ear, such as pus, or bloody fluid.
  • Symptoms that present with an infection, such as stiff neck, drowsiness, dizziness, headaches, vomiting, or loss of balance.

If you or your child has severe ear pain that is accompanied by swelling under or behind the ear, difficulty moving parts of your face (as you would normally) or have a sudden high fever or drastic personality changes (irritation/lethargy), it is critical to see a doctor right away. You can give us a call at 407-677-0099, or get an appointment booked on our website. During your appointment with us, we will get a detailed look at your ear, evaluate how well it is working, and diagnose the type of infection. With proper treatment, your ear infection should have no complications.