Ear Infections Center

Ear Infection Diagnosis

In order to diagnose an ear infection, simply schedule an appointment with your family doctor or paediatrician. If necessary, you may be referred to an otolaryngologist (ear, nose and throat surgeon) in the case of more severe or chronic ear infections.

Medical history
Your doctor will first ask you about your medical history and will assess the location, duration, and severity of ear pain. Your doctor will also ask you to describe whether ear pain is constant or intermittent.

Physical exam
Examination focuses on the ears, nose, and throat. Doctors use a handheld light with an ear speculum called an otoscope to check the eardrum for redness or bulging. Doctors then diagnose acute middle ear infections based on what they see or manipulate. A rubber bulb and tube attached to the otoscope can squeeze air into the ear to see if the eardrum moves. If the eardrum does not move or moves only slightly, infection may be present. Sometimes, your doctor may need to clean wax from the ear first to see more clearly.

Hearing tests
A physician may suggest a hearing test called "audiology tests" for a child who has frequent ear infections to determine the extent of hearing loss. The hearing test is usually performed by an audiologist, a person who is specially trained to measure hearing.

This test requires insertion of a small soft plug into the opening of the ear canal. The plug contains a speaker, a microphone, and a device that is able to change the air pressure in the ear canal, allowing for several measures of the middle ear. While this test provides information on the condition of the middle ear, it does not determine how well a person hears.

Other diagnostic possibilities
Ear pain can originate from a process within the ear itself or may be related to a nearby disorder that is not related to the ear. Possible diagnoses include:

  • Barotrauma (ear damage from high air pressure)
  • Cancer (nasopharynx, tonsils, base of tongue, larynx)
  • Foreign body in ear
  • Infection (tonsils, peritonsillar abscess)
  • Local trauma
  • Mastoiditis
  • Neuralgia (trigeminal, sphenopalatine, glossopharyngeal, geniculate nerve problems)
  • TMJ (temporo-mandibular joint) disorders

Most cases of ear infection can be diagnosed after brief medical history and physical examination. But how do doctors treat ear infections? To learn more about home remedy ear infection treatments, read our Treating Ear Infection section that follows.

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