Adult Ear Infections: 3 Things to Know

March 4, 2020 |read icon 4 min read

It’s a well-known fact that kids get ear infections. But adults can get ear infections, too. They occur less often but tend to be more serious. Here are three things to know about adult ear infections.

Types of ear infections

The ear has three parts: outer, middle and inner. Ear infections typically occur in the outer or middle ear.

1. Outer ear – This area includes the ear canal on the outside of the eardrum up to the opening of the ear. Infections in the outer ear can start as an itchy rash. Germs can gather in the warm, dark ear canal and cause infection. Sometimes an outer ear infection develops when water gets trapped and doesn’t drain out, a condition called swimmer’s ear. Outer ear infection also can occur from trauma or injury to the ear, such as from a cotton swab or fingernail. Adults must be careful when cleaning their ears, or a child’s ears.

2. Middle ear – This is the area behind the eardrum. Infections in the middle ear usually are caused by bacteria and viruses from the eyes, mouth or nasal passages. These germs can get trapped behind the eardrum. When an infection develops, people say their ears are painful and feel plugged, causing muffled hearing. If too much fluid builds up, the eardrum can rupture, causing drainage from the ear.

3. Inner ear – This area contains the cochlea, vestibular nerve and auditory nerve. Infections usually don’t develop in the inner ear. But if the inner ear becomes inflamed or irritated, people can experience loss of balance. They also can experience symptoms similar to an ear infection. Sometimes inner ear problems can be a sign of meningitis or labyrinthitis. An adult generally would know when to go to the doctor. But a child may not be able to describe the sensation.


Although signs of an ear infection can vary, common symptoms include inflammation, sharp pain, tenderness, hearing changes, nausea, vomiting, ringing and drainage. A painful ear infection can cause an adult or child extreme discomfort.


Ear infections can heal on their own within a few days. However, contact a doctor if the symptoms persist. If you develop a fever, have balance problems, or notice drainage from the ear, it’s especially important to see a doctor.

Was this article helpful? Yes / No

Need help with business planning products?

From comprehensive business planning to employee benefits, we can help create a financial strategy that’s best for your business.

Want the latest & greatest from our health blog
straight to your inbox?

Subscribe today for a periodic email with our latest posts.