Natural Health Remedies for You

Adult Ear Infections

This page focuses on adult ear infections, including the symptoms and causes of ear infections in adult (outer ear infections and middle ear infections).

Although ear infections are more common in infants and children, adult ear infections do occur from time to time.

There are two main categories of ear infections: otitis externa (outer ear infections, aka swimmer's ear), and otitis media (middle ear infections).

Swimmer's ear is rather common among adults, and it affects the ear canal, which runs from the opening of the ear to the eardrum. Outer ear infections are mostly caused by a substance (usually water) entering the ear canal and getting trapped there by a build-up of wax. Bacteria then grow and thrive in this condition causing the ear to become infected.

Otitis media is an infection of the middle ear, the area just behind the eardrum. It happens when the eustachian tube (the passage that connects the middle ear to the nose and throat and which drains fluid from the middle ear) becomes blocked with fluid. With the infection, mucus, pus, and bacteria can also pool behind the eardrum, causing pressure and pain.

Middle ear infections are more common among infants and children, because the eustachian tube is more horizontal than it is in adults and does not drain as efficiently. However, acute middle ear infections can also occur in adults. Acute middle ear infections in adults usually occur when there is a mucus-producing disease of the upper respiratory system, such as a cold or the flu.

Symptoms of Adult Ear Infections

Symptoms of outer ear infections in adults include:
  • Redness and itchiness inside the ear
  • Flaking of the skin on the ear
  • Pus from the ear
  • Ear pain, especially when moving the head or touching the ear
  • Fever
Symptoms of middle ear infections in adults include:
  • Ear pain, often throbbing
  • Fever
  • Discharge from the ear (occurs from a ruptured ear drum)
  • Pressure or a feeling of fullness in the ear
  • Hearing difficulty in the affected ear
  • Nausea and vomiting
Note that not all of the symptoms above need to be present for a diagnosis of ear infection.


Causes of Adult Ear Infections

For outer ear infections in adult, the cause is most likely an infection caused by bacteria that are common in the environment. Infections caused by fungi or viruses are less common.

Bacteria can gain access to the skin of the ear and grow and thrive there if:
  • There is excess moisture in the ear
  • There is a break or abrasion in the skin from injuries or just scratching with a cotton swab, or other object in the ear
  • You have a rash caused by sensitivity to hair products or jewelry
For middle ear infections in adults, the causes include:
  • Upper respiractory infections, such as a cold
  • Environmental allergens, such as molds, dust, animal dander, and pollen
  • Exposure to cigarette smoke which can irritate the eustachian tube and cause inflammation
  • Nutritional deficiencies of vitamins A and C and essential fatty acid imbalance
  • Infected or swelling of the adenoids (tonsils)


Treatment of Adult Ear Infections

Outer ear infections are usually treated with antibiotic ear drops, whereas middle ear infections in adults are often treated with oral antibiotics. Natural home remedies for ear infections are safe and effective in treating adult ear infections. Visit our page on Home Remedies for Ear Infections for more information.

Related Topic

Home Remedies for Ear Infections


Balch and Stengler, Prescription for Natural Cures, (John Wiley & Sons, Inc., 2004) (

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