When To Alert Your Physician About Earaches
The first symptoms of an earache might start as minor discomfort. But eventually, an earache can progress to result in severe pain that disrupts your day.
If you have intense ear pain, how do you know when to visit the doctor? Or, is it bad enough to merit a trip to the emergency room?
It’s essential to monitor the progress of your ear infection and reach out to a doctor right away if certain signs appear. Earaches can occur for a variety of reasons, and your family physician can provide treatment results to alleviate your pain and prevent infections in the future.
Ear Infection Causes
Why are you experiencing ear pain? Your physician will help you identify the underlying issues so you can identify the ideal treatment plan to address the root cause.
Usually, an earache occurs because of an infection located in the middle ear. This space is usually filled with air, located behind the eardrum. If there is an infection, pressure can build because the ear isn’t draining correctly.
Earaches are more common in children than adults because of the ear canal structure. Children under the age of 4 have more horizontal, shorter eustachian tubes that let viruses and bacteria into the middle ear more easily. Additionally, the ear tubes get blocked easier because they are narrower in children.
Risk Factors for Ear Infections
The risk of earache goes up when a person is exposed to irritants and infection-causing pathogens. Common risk factors include:
- Exposure to Other People: Children in childcare are exposed to many other children, increasing the likelihood of exposure to viruses and the common cold. These respiratory illnesses can result in a secondary infection in the ears.
- Seasonal Elements: The risk of ear infection goes up in the cooler months – fall and winter. Some people have a higher risk of ear infections if they have seasonal allergies in the spring because of sinus congestion and postnasal drip.
- Air Pollution: Exposure to high levels of air pollution can increase the likelihood of ear infections. Tobacco smoke can also be a factor.
- Age: Ear infections are more common in younger children, especially between the ages of 6 months – 2 years.
- Feeding Habits: When a child is lying down and drinking a bottle, the risk of ear infection is higher compared to children who breastfeed.
Earache Symptoms in Adults and Children
If you are experiencing mild or moderate ear pain and accompanying symptoms, then a primary care physician can be the correct type of treatment. Signs that you need to talk to a doctor include:
- Ringing in the ears
- Minor, temporary hearing loss
- Low fever
- Discharge coming from the ears (sticky or bloody)
- Wiggling the earlobe increases pain
- Increased pain when blowing your nose
- Worsening pain 1 – 2 days after the symptoms begin
Adults can identify and verbalize these symptoms. But children might not have the understanding or communication skills to tell an adult when they have an earache. If you are a parent, watch for these signs of an ear infection in a child:
- Difficulty sleeping
- Ear pain increases when lying down
- Increased crying
- Pulling or tugging on an ear
- Loss of appetite
- Balance issues
- Fever of 100 F or higher
- Fluid draining from the ear
- Problems with hearing
Symptoms to Watch For: When to Talk to a Physician About an Earache
Just because you have a minor earache doesn’t necessarily mean that you need to rush to visit with your primary care physician. Sometimes, minor infections can clear up with at-home earache remedies.
But, watch for these symptoms that indicate a more severe condition that requires a diagnosis and prompt treatment:
- Symptoms continue longer than a day
- Severe ear pain
- Pain is getting worse
- A child has other symptoms of an upper respiratory infection
- Discharge of bloody fluid, pus, or discolored fluid coming from the ear
Signs You Need Emergency Care for an Earache
While a primary care physician can treat most earaches, there are instances when it’s best to head to the emergency room. Here are a few symptoms that accompany an earache and might indicate you could be experiencing a medical emergency.
- Vomiting and/or nausea
- Recent head trauma
- High fever
- Severe drowsiness
- Stiff neck
Just because you have any of these symptoms doesn’t necessarily mean that you have a medical emergency. But it’s always wise to be cautious by seeking medical help if there is any question about the severity of your earache and other accompanying symptoms.
Preventing Future Ear Infections
Not only will your primary care physician help with immediate relief for an earache, but it’s also vital to learn preventive strategies for minimizing the risk of infections in the future. Prevention tips include:
- Minimizing Exposure to the Common Cold: Practice regular hygiene habits to reduce the risk of illness. For example, frequent hand washing and limiting time around other people with symptoms are good health habits to follow. If possible, reduce the time your child spends in large groups with other children.
- Avoid Irritants: Avoid environments where you are exposed to secondhand smoke and air pollution. Stay in smoke-free environments and use an at-home air filter if needed.
- Keep the Ears Clean: Gently rinse the ears after swimming in dirty water, such as a lake or the ocean. Cleaning the ears after swimming or wearing earplugs can help to reduce the risk of developing swimmer’s ear.
Potential complications from an earache might include:
- Developmental Delays: Children rely on hearing for speech development. If an earache affects a child’s hearing, then it could have a temporary or permanent impact on their child’s ability to develop social, speech, and developmental skills.
- Hearing Loss: Temporary or permanent hearing loss can occur. Most of the time, mild hearing loss goes away when the infection clears. But repetitive ear infections can lead to permanent damage to the eardrum.
- Eardrum Tearing: Increasing pressure in the middle ear can cause the eardrum to tear. Most of the time, it will heal within three days. But there are times when surgical treatment is needed to repair the eardrum.
Talk to a Physician About Earache Treatment
Most of the time, earaches can be treated without serious health consequences. But, if an earache is left untreated, it could potentially result in long-term complications – especially chronic ear infections.
You don’t have to suffer from ear pain. If you are experiencing any of the symptoms listed above, contact our team to schedule an appointment with a primary care physician.