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Ear infection - Ear infection Glossary

BMJ Group Medical Reference



If you have an allergy to something (such as pollen or a medicine), your body always overreacts to it. The reaction happens because your immune system (your body's system for fighting infection) is too sensitive to it.


These medicines are used to help your immune system fight infection. There are a number of different types of antibiotics that work in different ways to get rid of bacteria, parasites, and other infectious agents. Antibiotics do not work against viruses.


Antibodies are an important part of your immune system. They are proteins made by white blood cells (another part of your immune system). They help destroy bacteria and other agents that cause infections.


Bacteria are tiny organisms. There are lots of different types. Some are harmful and can cause disease. But some bacteria live in your body without causing any harm.


A cholesteatoma is a lump of skin that can grow in your middle ear, behind your eardrum. It may happen if you have lots of ear infections. If a cholesteatoma grows over a long time, it can cause hearing problems or dizziness.


Diarrhoea is when you have loose, watery stools and you need to go to the toilet far more often than usual. Doctors say you have diarrhoea if you need to go to the toilet more than three times a day.


If you have a fever, your body temperature is above 37 degrees Celsius (98.6 degrees Fahrenheit). With a fever you often get other symptoms, such as shivering, headache or sweating. A fever is usually caused by an infection.

general anaesthetic

You may have a type of medicine called a general anaesthetic when you have surgery. It is given to make you unconscious so you don't feel pain when you have surgery.

high temperature

A high temperature is a general sign that there is an infection or inflammation in your body. Temperatures vary, but anything over about 38 degrees Celsius (100 degrees Fahrenheit) is considered high.

immune system

Your immune system is made up of the parts of your body that fight infection. When bacteria or viruses get into your body, it's your immune system that kills them. Antibodies and white blood cells are part of your immune system. They travel in your blood and attack bacteria, viruses and other things that could damage your body.


You get an infection when bacteria, a fungus, or a virus get into a part of your body where it shouldn't be. For example, an infection in your nose and airways causes the common cold. An infection in your skin can cause rashes such as athlete's foot. The organisms that cause infections are so tiny that you can't see them without a microscope.


Inflammation is when your skin or some other part of your body becomes red, swollen, hot, and sore. Inflammation happens because your body is trying to protect you from germs, from something that's in your body and could harm you (like a splinter) or from things that cause allergies (these things are called allergens). Inflammation is one of the ways in which your body heals an infection or an injury.

kidney failure

Kidney failure is when your kidneys can't make urine properly. Kidney failure happens because of kidney disease. People with kidney failure need to have dialysis, which is a way to get rid of the substances in your blood that normally go in your urine.


Your kidneys are organs that filter your blood to make urine. You have two kidneys, on either side of your body. They are underneath your ribcage, near your back.


Your liver is on the right side of your body, just below your ribcage. Your liver does several things in your body, including processing and storing nutrients from food, and breaking down chemicals, such as alcohol.

local anaesthetic

A local anaesthetic is a painkiller that's used to numb one part of your body. You usually get local anaesthetics as injections.


Your mastoid process is the bony area that sticks out slightly behind your ear. Mastoiditis occurs when this area becomes inflamed. You can get mastoiditis when the inside of your ear is infected.


Meningitis is a swelling in the thin layers of tissue that surround your brain and your spinal cord. It usually happens because of an infection with certain kinds of bacteria or viruses. Meningitis can give you a severe headache and a stiff neck. And you may find it difficult to keep your eyes open in the light. Meningitis is a life-threatening disease. If you have these symptoms, you should go to hospital straight away.


NSAID stands for nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug. NSAIDs help with pain, inflammation and fever. They are called 'nonsteroidal' because they don't contain any steroids. Aspirin and ibuprofen are both NSAIDs.


An otoscope is a tool your doctor uses to look into your ear.


A placebo is a 'pretend' or dummy treatment that contains no active substances. A placebo is often given to half the people taking part in medical research trials, for comparison with the 'real' treatment. It is made to look and taste identical to the drug treatment being tested, so that people in the studies do not know if they are getting the placebo or the 'real' treatment. Researchers often talk about the 'placebo effect'. This is where patients feel better after having a placebo treatment because they expect to feel better. Tests may indicate that they actually are better. In the same way, people can also get side effects after having a placebo treatment. Drug treatments can also have a 'placebo effect'. This is why, to get a true picture of how well a drug works, it is important to compare it against a placebo treatment.


Pneumonia is an infection in your lungs. Anything that causes infections (bacteria, viruses or fungi, for example) can give you pneumonia.

randomised controlled trials

Randomised controlled trials are medical studies designed to test whether a treatment works. Patients are split into groups. One group is given the treatment being tested (for example, an antidepressant drug) while another group (called the comparison or control group) is given an alternative treatment. This could be a different type of drug or a dummy treatment (a placebo). Researchers then compare the effects of the different treatments.


Streptococcus is a type of bacteria that most often causes problems in your mouth or lungs.

systematic reviews

A systematic review is a thorough look through published research on a particular topic. Only studies that have been carried out to a high standard are included. A systematic review may or may not include a meta-analysis, which is when the results from individual studies are put together.


Viruses are microbes (tiny organisms) that need the cells of humans or other animals to exist. They use the machinery of cells to reproduce. Then they spread to other cells in the body.


For references related to Ear infection click here.
Last Updated: October 08, 2012
This information does not replace medical advice.  If you are concerned you might have a medical problem please ask your Boots pharmacy team in your local Boots store, or see your doctor.
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