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Ear infection

Ear infections happen when germs such as bacteria, viruses or fungi cause swelling and irritation of your ear. They are most common in childhood, and are often passed from one child to another, but they can happen at any age.

Infections of the middle ear are called otitis media, and infections of the outer ear are called otitis externa.

The outer ear includes all the parts of the ear outside the body, and up to your eardrum. The middle ear includes all the parts between your eardrum and the hearing nerve, inside your head. This nerve takes sound messages to the brain.

Ear infections can be uncomfortable but are not usually serious. Sometimes, fluid build up behind the eardrum can cause so much pressure on the membrane that a hole forms (perforated eardrum). These usually heal by themselves. Occasionally an ear infection can lead to complications such as infection of the bone by the ear, and in rare cases meningitis (swelling of the brain) may develop. Ear infections are unlikely to cause permanent loss or impairment of hearing, but you may be referred to an Ear, Nose and Throat (ENT) specialist if the infections keep coming back.