What causes fluid in the ear
Our ears contain small tubes, called Eustachian tubes, that connect the ears to the back of the throat. Part of their role is to remove any fluid that accumulates in the middle ear. Fluid in the ear is caused when there is something that prevents the tubes from draining properly, which can include:
- Colds or any congestion
- Sinus or throat infections
- Ear barotrauma
- A growth that blocks the Eustachian tubes
Anyone can get fluid in their ears, but children are more likely to experience it as they have much narrower Eustachian tubes.
Treatment for fluid in the ear
Fluid in the ear will usually resolve on its own, without the need for any treatment. But you should see your GP if you have any uncomfortable symptoms, particularly if they last longer than a few weeks.
If the tube blockage is caused by inflammation or an infection, your GP may prescribe a course of antibiotics to reduce the swelling of the Eustachian tubes and encourage the fluid to drain away.
If there are still problems after a few months, it may be necessary to consider surgery. This would involve placing small tubes (called grommets) in the ear that allow the fluid to drain.
This condition is caused by a build-up of fluid in the middle ear which causes temporary hearing loss, earache, tinnitus and sometimes a ‘popping’ feeling in the ears.
A middle ear infection is caused by an excess of mucus that blocks he Eustachian tubes and stops the fluid from draining out. Bacteria and viruses then cause the fluid to become infected which leads to uncomfortable symptoms like ear pain, ear discharge, and fever.
Your eardrum can tear when the fluid behind the eardrum builds up and causes very high pressure. Many people experience a discharge from the ear as the fluid build up can now drain out.
Diagnosing fluid in the ear
Your GP will check for signs of fluid in the ear by using a tool called an otoscope, which magnifies and lights up the ear to allow a clearer view inside.
They’ll be looking for things like air bubbles on the eardrum, visible fluid behind the eardrum, how taut or slack the eardrum looks, as well as the general appearance inside the ear.
Your GP may also do an exam called tympanometry which tests if the eardrum can move. They’ll know if there is fluid present behind the eardrum when it doesn’t move.
Preventing the build-up of fluid in the ear
The best way to prevent fluid building up in the ear is to understand the situations and conditions that block the Eustachian tubes.
Obviously, it’s not always possible to prevent them from ever happening, but there are a few things you can do to avoid them, such as:
- Resting up if you get a cold and taking decongestants if recommended
- Taking antihistamines if you have allergies
- Yawning, drinking water, chewing gum or sucking a sweet if you’re flying
- Avoiding second-hand smoke
Fluid in the ear can happen to anyone and typically doesn’t have any symptoms. But it is related to a number of ear conditions such as ear infection, ruptured eardrum and glue ear.
Fluid in the ear is a symptom of a number of conditions that affect the tubes within the ear that drain away fluid. It can be caused by allergies, or following a cold or other illness where you’ve been congested.
Some cases can resolve on their own after a couple of weeks.