Pain is the main symptom of an acute outer ear infection. If the infection lasts for a long time (it becomes chronic) you may also get itchiness and a feeling of 'fullness' in your ear. These symptoms can stop you hearing properly.
If you've got an acute outer ear infection, it means that your symptoms come on quickly, over a day or two. The first symptom is usually pain, which is often constant and severe. But it can be mild to start with.
Besides having pain, you may find that:
Your ear feels 'full', as if it is blocked with something
The skin inside your ear canal is itchy
Sounds are a bit muffled
There's some watery fluid coming out of your ear.
Sometimes the first symptom you get may be the 'full' feeling or itchiness. This does not mean you're definitely getting an infection. But if the ear canal is damaged (for example, by you rubbing inside it with a finger) you may get a mild pain when you press the outside of the ear, then bad pain and swelling.
If you've got a chronic outer ear infection, it means you've probably had an acute outer ear infection that has not completely gone away. Your ear remains inflamed for weeks or months, even though there is no pain. The itchiness and swelling inside the ear that you get with a chronic outer ear infection may make it hard for you to hear.
If you've got a painful, itchy ear, your doctor will look into your ear with an instrument called an otoscope, to see if you have an outer ear infection. They will also be able to tell if you have an infection of the middle ear.
Young children often get earache from infections of the middle ear. Doctors call this otitis media. Middle ear infections are treated differently from outer ear infections. To find out more, see Ear infection.
Your doctor won't wait to find out what's causing the inflammation, because it's important to start treatment straight away. But if the first treatment you are given doesn't work, they might need to find out exactly what's causing the infection before trying another treatment.
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.
An otoscope is a tool your doctor uses to look into your ear.
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