What are the symptoms and treatment options for otitis?

Symptom Database

Otitis, commonly known as an ear infection, is a condition characterized by inflammation and infection of the ear. There are two main types of otitis: otitis media, which affects the middle ear, and otitis externa, which affects the outer ear. Both types can cause ear pain and discomfort, and if left untreated, can lead to complications. In this article, we will explore the symptoms and treatment options for otitis, providing valuable insights and tips for managing this condition.

Otitis Media: Symptoms and Treatment

Otitis media refers to an infection of the middle ear, which is the space behind the eardrum. It is most commonly seen in children, but can also affect adults. The following are common symptoms of otitis media:

  • Ear pain or discomfort
  • Fluid drainage from the ear
  • Difficulty hearing or temporary hearing loss
  • Fever
  • Irritability in infants and young children

If you or your child experience any of these symptoms, it is important to seek medical attention. A healthcare professional will examine the ear using an otoscope to determine the presence of infection and prescribe appropriate treatment. Treatment options for otitis media may include:

  • Antibiotics: If the infection is bacterial, antibiotics may be prescribed to eliminate the bacteria causing the infection.
  • Pain relievers: Over-the-counter pain relievers such as acetaminophen or ibuprofen can help alleviate ear pain and reduce fever.
  • Ear drops: In some cases, antibiotic ear drops may be prescribed to treat the infection directly in the ear.
  • Observation: In certain instances, especially for mild cases or in older children and adults, the healthcare professional may recommend a “wait-and-see” approach to see if the infection resolves on its own.

Otitis Externa: Symptoms and Treatment

Otitis externa, also known as swimmer’s ear, is an infection of the outer ear canal. It is often caused by water remaining in the ear after swimming or bathing, creating a moist environment ideal for bacterial or fungal growth. The following are common symptoms of otitis externa:

  • Ear pain, which may worsen when the ear is touched or pulled
  • Itching in the ear canal
  • Redness and swelling of the ear canal
  • Drainage of pus or fluid from the ear
  • Temporary hearing loss

If you suspect otitis externa, it is important to consult a healthcare professional for proper diagnosis and treatment. Treatment options for otitis externa may include:

  • Ear drops: Prescription ear drops containing antibiotics or antifungal medication are commonly used to treat otitis externa. These drops help eliminate the infection and reduce inflammation.
  • Pain relievers: Over-the-counter pain relievers can help alleviate ear pain and discomfort.
  • Avoiding water exposure: During treatment, it is important to keep the affected ear dry and avoid swimming or submerging the ear in water.
  • Ear canal cleaning: In some cases, the healthcare professional may need to clean the ear canal to remove debris and facilitate the effectiveness of the ear drops.

Preventing Ear Infections

While ear infections can be common, there are steps you can take to reduce the risk of developing otitis:

  • Keep ears dry: After swimming or bathing, gently dry the ears with a towel or use a hairdryer on a low setting to remove any moisture.
  • Avoid inserting objects in the ear: Do not insert cotton swabs or other objects into the ear canal, as this can damage the delicate structures and increase the risk of infection.
  • Practice good hand hygiene: Regularly washing hands with soap and water can help prevent the spread of bacteria and viruses that can cause ear infections.
  • Stay up to date with vaccinations: Vaccines, such as the pneumococcal vaccine and the flu vaccine, can help prevent certain infections that can lead to otitis media.

By following these preventive measures, you can significantly reduce the likelihood of developing an ear infection.


Otitis, or ear infection, can cause significant discomfort and inconvenience. Recognizing the symptoms and seeking prompt medical attention is crucial for effective treatment and prevention of complications. Whether it is otitis media or otitis externa, appropriate treatment options are available to alleviate symptoms and promote healing. By taking preventive measures, such as keeping the ears dry and practicing good hand hygiene, you can reduce the risk of developing ear infections. Remember, if you or your child experience any symptoms of otitis, consult a healthcare professional for proper diagnosis and treatment.

Haroon Rashid, MD
Rate author
Urgent Care Center of Arlington, VA
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