What You Need to Know About Ear Infections
The ear consists of three major parts:
- The outer ear, which includes the pinna -- the visible part of the ear -- and the ear canal. The outer ear extends to the tympanic membrane, or eardrum, which separates the outer ear from the middle ear.
- The middle ear is an air-filled space that is located behind the eardrum. The middle ear contains three tiny bones: the malleus, incus, and stapes, which transmit sound from the eardrum to the inner ear.
- The inner ear contains the organs related to hearing and balance. The cochlea contains the hearing organ which converts sound into electrical signals. These signals are associated with the origin of impulses, which are then carried by nerves to the brain, where their meanings are appreciated.
The causes of otitis media are most often bacteria or viruses that get inside the ear. These bacteria or viruses can initially cause sore throats, colds, or other respiratory or breathing problems and then spread to the middle ear.
An ear infection is often difficult to detect because most children affected by ear infection symptoms do not yet have sufficient speech and language skills to tell someone what is bothering them.
Common symptoms of in children include:
- Unusual irritability
- Difficulty sleeping
- Tugging or pulling at one or both ears
- Fluid draining from the ear
- Loss of balance
- Unresponsiveness to quiet sounds or other signs of hearing difficulty (such as sitting too close to the television or being inattentive).
A child with an ear infection may demonstrate any of these symptoms of an ear infection.
(Click Adult Ear Infections for information about symptoms of ear infections in adults.)