How Long Does an Ear Infection Last?

Various types of ear infections occur within the three sections of the ear: the inner ear, middle ear, and outer ear.  Because each section has a unique form and function, how long an ear infection lasts is dependent on which section of the ear is affected.  To understand the duration of an ear infection, this article will examine the characteristics infections of each ear section.

Inner Ear Infections (Labyrinthitis)

Also called the labyrinth, the inner ear is made up of sections.  Sound wave frequency is measured by the Cochlea that sends electrical signals to the brain which are interpreted as sound.

Because of the inner ear functions, infections can lead to balance issues, vertigo, and falling.  Labryinthitis is the condition caused by an inner ear infection that describes the irritation and swelling of the inner ear.  Common inner ear infection symptoms include pain, reduced hearing, and fever.  Tinnitus and nausea can also occur.

Most inner ear infections are caused by viruses but in rare cases, bacterial infections can spread from the middle ear into the inner ear.  Cold and flu viruses are the primary viruses that can lead to inner ear infections though measles, herpes, glandular fever, and mumps can also lead to infections.

DURATION:  Inner ear infections tend to be longer lasting.  The most severe symptoms generally subside within 1 week but complete recovery could take up to 2 to 3 months.

Middle Ear Infections (Acute Otitis Media)

Containing a series of small bones (ossicles), the middle ear is an air filled area behind the eardrum that connects to the back of the throat via the Eustachian tube.  It helps regulate pressure and drainage of normal debris and secretions.

Middle ear infections are called acute otitis media and are the most common type of ear infection.  Because their Eustachain tubes are less well developed and more susceptible to blockage, middle ear infections are especially common in children between 3 months and 3 years of age.  Like inner ear infections, most middle ear infections are caused by viruses.

Symptoms may include ear pain, discharge, feeling like the ear is clogged, reduced hearing, and nausea.  The symptoms are slightly different with children and could include a fever, reduced appetite, irritability, headaches, and scratching at the ear.

DURATION:  Symptoms typically last for less than two days.  Should symptoms persist longer than two days, it is advisable to consult a doctor because if left untreated, complications and serious health issues could arise.

Outer Ear Infections (Acute Otitis Externa)

The outer ear includes the pinna (fleshy part on side of the head) and ear canal (2cm tube that funnels sound towards the eardrum).  Bacterial infections are the most frequent cause of outer ear infections though fungal and viral infections can also occur.  Excess moisture in the ear (swimmers ear), scratches or abrasions to the ear canal, and sensitivity reactions (eczema) can also result in an outer ear infection.

Outer ear infection symptoms include pain, reduced hearing, fever, discharge, feeling like the ear is clogged, redness, and swelling.

DURATION:  If treated properly, outer ear infections generally clear up after 7 to 10 days.  When ear drops are used for treatment, they may have to be applied for a bit longer, 10 to 14 days.  If left untreated, an outer ear infection can lead to dangerous complications by spreading to the brain or cranial nerves.

More on Ear Infections : Do Ear Infections go Away on Their own?