Viral Ear Infections

Brass Ear
Brass Ear (Image: "Walls have Ears" is Copyrighted by Flickr user: laverrue (Ludovic Bertron) under the Creative Commons Attribution license.)

Viral ear infections are typically caused when an upper respiratory viral infection (e.g., a cold or influenza) spreads to the ear and causes inflammation and swelling.

Primary Symptoms

Viral ear infections can cause ear pain, drainage from the ear, loss of appetite, fever, vomiting, difficulty sleeping and difficulty hearing.

Secondary Symptoms

If the swelling becomes severe enough to cause fluid build up, symptoms can include popping or ringing in the ear, a feeling of fullness or pressure in the ear, balance problems and dizziness.


Treatment includes taking pain relievers (e.g., acetaminophen and ibuprofen), applying hot compresses to the ear and taking a decongestant. Sometimes a doctor will prescribe eardrops to relieve pain or a steroid to reduce inflammation. Antibiotics are only prescribed for bacterial ear infections.


Adults should avoid cigarette smoke and contact with people who have a cold or influenza, get yearly vaccinations against seasonal influenza and wash their hands frequently. The same advice applies to children, along with a few additional tips. Do not nurse or bottle-feed infants while they are lying down and avoid using pacifiers.

Secondary Infection

If there is enough swelling, fluid that is in your ear naturally cannot drain and you can be at risk for developing a bacterial ear infection.

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