There are a number of different types of ear infections. They can vary from sudden severe pain without any discharge to a painless runny ear.
A running ear (the medical term is ‘otorrhoea’) is usually caused by infection, either of the outer ear or middle ear. The cause may not be initially apparent to your doctor if the ear canal is filled with fluid or debris. Sometimes microsuction, careful cleaning of the ear using a binocular microscope is required. Often a type of eczema in the ear canal (chronic otitis externa) is responsible which is usually easily treated.
Rarer and more serious infections such as 'cholesteatoma' (an internal skin-like growth that affects the mastoid bone behind the ear) need to be excluded if the ear doesn't settle quickly with antibiotics.
Ear infections in middle-aged or elderly patients with diabetes (or some other problems with the immune system) can be very serious and require urgent specialist attention.
Sudden onset of severe pain with or without discharge may be acute otitis externa or otitis media (infections of the outer and middle ear, respectively). Your doctor, or if severe the accident and emergency department, will assess the ear and treat accordingly but a specialist Ear, Nose and Throat opinion may be necessary, either urgently for severe problems, or in cases where the symptoms aren’t settling after initial treatment.
If you would like to arrange an appointment to discuss your symptoms further, please do so via using one of the available options on our contact us page