Ear InfectionEar infections are one of the most commonly diagnosed childhood illnesses in the United States. Adult can get ear infections, but they aren't as common. In most cases, an ear infection will heal on its own. If needed, antibiotics may be prescribed.
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An ear infection causes fluid to build up behind the eardrum in the middle ear. The eardrum may bulge, swell and turn red, causing the tissue to become inflamed and leading to pain and hearing problems. Ear infections are caused by a bacterial or viral infection, often associated with a cold or cough.
Ear infections are more common in children because their eustachian tubes, which connect the middle ear to the throat, are narrower and more horizontal, which makes draining more difficult. Swelling, inflammation and mucus produced by an allergy or upper respiratory infection can cause excess fluid in the eustachian tubes.
Frequent ear infections or ear infections that do not clear up can cause fluid in the middle ear, leading to muffled hearing. Repeated ear infections can delay speech development and lead to hearing loss.
Most children stop getting ear infections by about 6 years of age. Very young children, between 6 months and 2 years of age, are more likely to get ear infections, as are children in group child care settings. Babies who drink from a bottle while lying down tend to have more ear infections than breast-fed babies.
Air pollution, tobacco smoke and pollen may also contribute to ear infections. Having large adenoids, the two small pads of tissue in the upper back of the nose, may also block the eustachian tubes and contribute to ear infections.