Many children will have temporary and minor hearing loss during or right after an ear infection. Permanent hearing loss is rare, but the risk increases with the number of infections.
The eustachian tube runs from the middle part of each ear to the back of the throat. This tube drains fluid that is normally made in the middle ear. If the eustachian tube becomes blocked, fluid can build up. This may lead to pressure behind the eardrum or an ear infection.
Ear pain in adults is less likely to be from an ear infection. What you think is ear pain may actually be coming from another location, such as your temporomandibular joint, teeth, throat, or other location. This is called "referred" pain.
Pain, tenderness, or redness of the mastoid bone behind the ear on the skull is often a sign of a serious infection.
The following steps can help prevent earaches:
Avoid smoking near children. Smoking has been shown to cause millions of ear infections each year in children.
Prevent outer ear infections by not putting objects in the ear, and drying the ear after bathing or swimming.
Take steps to control allergies. In particular, avoid allergy triggers. Steroid nasal spray may help reduce ear infections. However, over-the-counter sedating antihistamines and decongestants do NOT prevent ear infections.
Ely JW, Hansen MR, Clark EC. Diagnosis of ear pain. Am Fam Physician. 2008;77(5):621-628.
American Academy of Pediatrics Subcommittee on Management of Acute Otitis Media. Diagnosis and management of acute otitis media. Pediatrics. 2004;113(5):1451-1465.
Coker TR, Chan LS, Newberry SJ, Limbos MA, Suttorp MJ, Shekelle PG, et al. Diagnosis, microbial epidemiology, and antibiotic treatment of acute otitis mediain children: a systematic review. JAMA. 2010 Nov 17;304(19):2161-9.
Neil K. Kaneshiro, MD, MHA, Clinical Assistant Professor of Pediatrics, University of Washington School of Medicine. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M. Health Solutions, Ebix, Inc.