The ear has three major parts: the outer (the ear lobe and ear canal), middle (the small space just behind the eardrum), and inner ear (the fluid-filled structures that convert mechanical vibrations into nerve impulses). Problems in the inner ear cause disturbances in hearing and balance, but not pain. Dental problems (including teething in kids) can cause pain that appears to come from the ear. Disturbance and infection of the outer ear hurt.
Bacterial and fungal infections in the ear canal (that usually happen to swimmers) cause itching, redness, a feeling of fullness in the ear canal, diminished hearing, and increasing pain. Antibiotic eardrops fight bacterial infection; antifungal drops kill fungi; and steroid eardrops can reduce swelling. The primary cause of middle ear pain is a pressure differential between the middle ear and throat.
Earaches during childhood usually originate from middle ear infection. By the age of five, most of children have had at least one episode. Here’s what actually happens. The Eustachian tube connects the middle ear, which is normally an air-filled space, with the throat. Something— cigarette smoke, bacteria, viruses, or allergens—causes swelling in the Eustachian tube. Swelling blocks the tube, which traps microbes that entered from the throat. The microbes multiply. Accumulating fluid (from infection and inflammation) creates pressure against the eardrum, which hurts. Infants and small children are more susceptible because their Eustachian tubes are shorter, more horizontal, and floppier, making collapse and obstruction of the tube easier. The symptoms of a middle ear infection include irritability, fever, batting or pulling at the ear, difficulty sleeping, decreased hearing, loss of balance, decreased appetite, and discharge from the ear. Blood-tinged pus exiting the ear is a sign that the eardrum has ruptured. Often the pain immediately settles down. The eardrum usually heals itself. You should see the doctor, just in case.
Unless recommended by your doctor, do not put eardrops into the ear canal if you suspect a ruptured eardrum. Doing so could further infect or irritate the now-exposed middle ear. If the doctor prescribes an antibiotic or steroid eardrop, by all means use it. Doctors diagnose outer and middle ear infections by examining the ear with a lighted instrument called an otoscope. To prevent children’s middle ear infections, it helps to stay current on immunizations, particularly the Haemophilus influenza type b (Hib), seasonal influenza virus, and pneumococcal conjugate vaccines.
Additionally, stay away from tobacco smoke. It damages the immune system and inflames the respiratory linings. Inflammation and swelling in the Eustachian tube can obstruct it, which increases the risk of middle ear infection. You can try out these home remedies to prevent and treat minor ear problems.