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Ear Infections: Symptoms & Diagnosis

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This information was reviewed and approved by 11/1/2018, Cameran Collins, PA-C

There are many similar signs and symptoms of ear infections or middle ear infections among infants or toddlers and children, teens or adults.

Infants and Toddlers

Signs and symptoms of ear infections in infants and toddlers may include:

  • Pulling or scratching at the ear (with other symptoms)
  • Crying and irritability
  • Hearing and speech problems
  • Vomiting
  • Fever
  • Ear drainage


Young Children, Teens and Adults

Signs and symptoms of ear infections in young children, teens and adults may include:

  • Earache
  • Feeling of fullness or pressure
  • Dizziness or loss of balance
  • Hearing and speech problems
  • Nausea, vomiting
  • Fever
  • Ear drainage


Diagnosing an Ear Infection

A health care provider can diagnose ear infections after using an otoscope to look in the ears. An otoscope is a very small microscope with a flashlight that can look inside the ear. It helps the provider look for redness and fluid behind the eardrum. It can also use gentle pressure to make the eardrum move in a process called pneumatic otoscopy. If it doesn’t move and it is red, then the ear is likely infected. If it doesn’t move, but there is no sign of inflammation, there may be fluid in the middle ear called an effusion.

Sometimes health care providers will use an audiogram to test for hearing loss and a tympanogram to measure air pressure in the middle ear. This shows if the eustachian tube is working correctly and if the eardrum can move.