Ear infections happen when bacteria or viruses enter the ear canal; they can be external (otitis externa, a.k.a. swimmer’s ear), or internal (otitis media). Both can cause pain and fever in children and adults.
Otitis externa, more commonly known as Swimmer’s ear, is an infection of the ear and/or outer ear canal. It can cause the ear to itch or become red and swollen so that touching of or pressure on the ear is very painful. There may also be pus that drains from the ear. Antibiotics are usually needed to treat otitis externa.
Acute Otitis Media (AOM)
The type of ear infection that is usually painful and may improve with antibiotic treatment is called acute otitis media (AOM). Symptoms of AOM include pain, redness of the eardrum, pus in the ear, and fever. Children may pull on the affected ear, and infants or toddlers may be irritable. Antibiotics are often prescribed to children for AOM, but are not always necessary.
Acute Otitis Media with Effusion (AOME)
The part of the ear that gets blocked by fluid is called the eustachian tube, which connects the inside of the ear to the back of the throat. Fluid may build up in the middle ear for several reasons. When you or your child has a cold, the middle ear can get filled with fluid just as the nose does – it just doesn’t run out as easily from the middle ear. Sometimes the fluid becomes infected, leading to AOM. After an episode of AOM has been treated with antibiotics or has resolved on its own, fluid may remain in the middle ear and may take a month or longer to go away.