Types of Ear Infections

Raleigh Ear infections occur when viruses, bacteria, or fungi infect the ear canal or eustachian tubes.  There are several types of ear infections that occur in the inner, middle, and outer ear.  In this article we will discuss the various types of ear infections along with their related symptoms and treatment.

Otitis Externa

An inflammation or infection of the ear canal between the eardrum and outer ear, otitis externa can be caused by exposure to unclean water or from damage due to overaggressive cleaning.  Otitis externa can be either a bacterial or fungal infection.


  • Have ear canal professionally cleaned (syringing the ear should be avoided)
  • For bacterial infections, use of antibiotic and steroidal eardrops
  • For fungal infections, use of steroidal and antifungal eardrops
  • Oral antibiotics
  • Pain relieving medicine
  • Keeping ears clean and dry

Otitis Media – Acute or Chronic

Infecting the middle ear, otitis media can be either chronic or acute.  Acute otitis media is more common with children because congestion from colds block the eustachian tubes leading to infection.  Otitis media can be caused by bacteria, but studies suggest that most cases are viral in nature.

If acute otitis media bouts are frequent or one lingers for an extended period of time, chronic otitis media can develop.  Left untreated, serious complications can develop including meningitis, labyrinthitis, permanent hearing loss, and facial paralysis.


  • Pain relieving medicine
  • Medication for the infection
  • If bacterial, antibiotics are often used
  • If pus is present in the ear canal, eardrops may be used
  • Surgery to repair perforated eardrum (if necessary)

Serous Otitis Media

Also known as glue ear, serous otitis media primarily affects children six months to 2 years of age.  Typically developing after a middle ear infection, glue ear is characterized by fluid and pus buildup within the middle ear.


  • Antibiotics
  • If antibiotics do not work or repeated attacks occur, small drainage tubes can be surgically inserted

Infectious Myringitis

Caused by either bacteria or a virus, infectious myringitis inflames the eardrum leading to the formation of small, painful blisters.  If accompanied by a fever, the infection is almost always bacterial in nature.


  • Antibiotics
  • Pain relievers
  • Professional procedure to rupture the blisters

Acute Mastoiditis

The mastoid is the bone that can be felt directly behind the ear.  A prior bout of acute otitis media can cause the mastoid to become infected and is known as acute mastoiditis.  Characterized by redness and swollen skin over the mastoid, intense pain, fever, and discharge from the ear.  If not treated, acute mastoiditis can lead to blood poisoning, meningitis, paralysis of the face, and deafness.


  • IV antibiotics
  • Surgically draining the infected bone

Vestibular Neuronitis

The inner ear contains the vestibular system which coordinates balance.  Primarily caused by a virus, vestibular neuronitis causes inflammation of the vestibular nerve.  When this occurs, the predominant symptom is sudden, dramatic vertigo.  Vomiting and nausea often accompany the vertigo and in certain cases, the eyes may involuntarily flutter.


  • Medications (antihistamines)
  • Anti-nausea medicine
  • Vestibular physiotherapy to retrain the brain

Herpes Zoster of the Ear

The cochlear nerve is responsible for sending electrical sound impulses to the brain.  When the herpes zoster virus infects the auditory nerve, the condition is known as herpes zoster of the ear.  Symptoms include vertigo, ear pain, and blisters on the outer ear, ear canal, and possibly on the neck and face.


  • Antiviral medications – steroids
  • Pain relievers

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