What are the signs of ear problems?

Your ear is divided into three sections: the outer ear (including the external ear and ear canal), the middle ear (including the eardrum, three tiny bones called ossicles, and the eustachian tube), and the inner ear. The eustachian tubes are responsible for equalizing air pressure in the middle ear and allowing fluid to drain from the middle ear to the throat. A variety of mild to serious diseases, disorders and conditions can lead to ear symptoms affecting different areas or structures of the ear.

Types of ear symptoms

Ear symptoms vary depending on the underlying disease, disorder or condition. Typical ear symptoms include:

  • Burning sensation in the ear
  • Drainage of pus and blood from the ear canal followed by pain relief, which indicates that the eardrum has ruptured
  • Ear pain or discomfort
  • Feeling of fullness in the ear
  • Foul-smelling discharge
  • Hearing loss
  • Hearing unusual sounds such as ringing
  • Itching in the ear
  • Low-set ears (caused by genetic disorders, such as Down syndrome and Turner’s syndrome)
  • Spot, sore or growth on the skin of the outer ear or ear canal
  • Tugging or rubbing at the ear in infants and young children

Depending on the cause, ear symptoms can begin suddenly and disappear quickly, such as an earache due to a change in altitude. Ear symptoms can develop over time and occur along with additional symptoms that may be a sign of a more serious condition, such as hearing loss or rarely, a tumor. Ear symptoms may occur in both ears or only in one ear or a small part of the ear.

The most common cause of ear symptoms in children is a middle ear infection (otitis media). In adults, ear symptoms can result from infection, inflammation, trauma, malignancy (skin cancer), other abnormal processes, and aging. Underlying conditions in another region of the body can lead to secondary or referred ear symptoms, such as disorders of the jaw joint (temporomandibular joint) and teeth.

Certain types of ear symptoms can indicate a serious medical condition, such as a serious infection, encephalitis, or malignant tumors, which can lead to loss of hearing and other complications. Seek prompt medical care for undiagnosed or unexplained ear symptoms or if your ear symptoms get progressively worse or do not improve within 24 to 48 hours after treatment for the underlying cause. Seek immediate medical care (call 911) if you, your child, or someone you are with, have ear symptoms after a head injury or ear symptoms along with excessive crying, dizziness, change in alertness, ear swelling, seizures, lethargy, or facial weakness.


What other symptoms might occur with ear symptoms?

Ear symptoms may be accompanied by other symptoms, which vary depending on the underlying disease, disorder or condition. For example, a middle ear infection (otitis media) can cause ear pain accompanied by chills and fever and irritability in infants and children. Ear pain on one side accompanied by popping or cl... Read more about ear symptomssymptoms


What causes ear symptoms?

In children, ear symptoms are most frequently due to ear infections, but they can also be caused by irritating substances in the ear and other conditions. In adults, ear symptoms are often due to disorders and conditions originating in the ear, but can also be due to conditions in areas outside the ear. This is due to the variety of nerves and connective tissues that are shared by other head an... Read more about ear symptomscauses

Medical Reviewer: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS Last Annual Review Date: Aug 9, 2013 Copyright: © Copyright 2014 Health Grades, Inc. All rights reserved. May not be reproduced or reprinted without permission from Health Grades, Inc. Use of this information is governed by the HealthGrades User Agreement.

This Article is Filed Under: Ear, Nose and Throat

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