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  • Writer's pictureNick Oldham

5 Surprising Symptoms of Ear Infections

Ear Infections: Beyond Just Ear Pain

Diagnosing an ear infection can be pretty straightforward: Oftentimes, fluid and pus can push against the eardrum, causing throbbing ear pain as well as hearing loss and drainage of fluid from the ear, says Salvatore Caruana, MD, director of the division of head and neck surgery in the department of otolaryngology-head and neck surgery at Columbia University Medical Center in New York City. But ear infections can cause unexpected symptoms, too — ones you might not connect to the ears. Here’s what to watch out for.

Dizziness and Vomiting

Our auditory system is responsible for helping us hear — and it’s also intimately related with our balance systems, Dr. Caruana says. That’s why an ear infection can trigger dizziness, nausea, and vomiting.

Another reason: Your ear infection itself may be linked to a virus that’s affecting your entire body, Caruana says. For example, “you can get a viral infection first, and then the bacterial infection in the ear can follow,” he explains.

Appetite Changes

Blame nausea, ear pain, or just that plain-ol’ sick feeling — all of which can make even the most delicious burger and fries look unappetizing. Plus, Caruana explains, if you had a head cold that led to your ear infection, it might be affecting your upper aerodigestive tract and blunting your ability to taste food.

Or sometimes, it simply hurts to chew. This is more common if you have swimmer’s ear, an infection of the outer ear, he says. But if a middle ear infection is bad enough and spreads to the outside, it can cause painful chewing, too.


If you’re running a fever, that’s a sign that your immune system is trying to fight the infection. And while not everyone with an ear infection will get one, about half of kids will, according to Seattle Children’s Hospital. If your child is younger than 6 months and has a fever and other signs of an ear infection, like excessive crying and fussiness, take him or her to the doctor. You should also see a pediatrician if your child is older and has a temperature over 102° F.

Snoring and Bad Breath

Snoring in kids may be a sign of an ear infection associated with swollen adenoids, tissues that sit at the back of the nose and help fight infection, says Murray Grossan, MD, an ear, nose, and throat doctor in Los Angeles and author of The Whole Body Approach to Allergy and Sinus Health. But if they get infected, they can pass germs to the ears through the Eustachian tubes, according to the National Institutes of Health. Children with swollen adenoids tend to breathe through the mouth, which triggers snoring, Dr. Grossan says. Chronic ear infections and swollen adenoids can also cause bad breath, he notes.

Inattention and Speech Delays

Children with ear infections sometimes appear inattentive at home or school, Grossan says. The fluid blocking the middle ear causes hearing loss, so it seems as though the child isn’t paying attention or is simply ignoring teachers and parents. Hearing loss can also interfere with a young child’s speech and language development, Caruana says. A typical 2-year-old should speak in two-word phrases and be able to follow a two-step command, according to the Nemours Foundation, a nonprofit dedicated to children’s health. A 3-year-old should be able to say three-word sentences and have a vocabulary of 200 words or so. So if your child is not on track, talk to your pediatrician about whether ear infections are interfering with their speech development.

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