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What is a Viral Ear Infection?

Mary McMahon
By
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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A viral ear infection is an infection of the ear caused by the presence of a virus. Influenza, rhinovirus, and respiratory syncytial virus are common culprits behind viral infections involving the ear. While antibiotics are commonly prescribed for severe ear infections, they will not be useful in the treatment of a viral infection, as viruses are not susceptible to antibiotic medication. Most viral ear infections resolve on their own with supportive therapy and do not require treatment.

There are several ways a virus can cause an ear infection. In some cases, viruses infecting the nose or sinuses cause inflammation and irritation in the eustachian tube, a structure that provides drainage for the ear. If the ear cannot drain, fluid builds up, causing inflammation and eventual infection within the ear. Other viruses can attack the ear itself, causing the structures in the ear to become infected. The body can usually fight the virus off, although the patient may experience some pain, discomfort, and temporary hearing loss while the infection runs its course.

In some cases, a viral ear infection can be a serious medical problem and treatment is necessary. There is a risk of penetration into the bone around the ear, along with permanent hearing loss or damage. With infections like influenza, a patient with a weakened immune system might not be able to fight the virus off and usually experiences systemic infection, not just a viral ear infection. For most patients, however, the virus is simply a temporary cause of pain and discomfort.

Some doctors prescribe antibiotics generally for ear infections, operating under the assumption that they are caused by bacteria. If the infection doesn't respond, diagnostic testing may be used to look for viruses. Treatment for viral ear infections typically includes rest and plenty of hydration to keep the patient healthy. It may be possible to provide anti-virals to treat a viral ear infection, depending on the virus responsible for the infection. Surgery to drain the ear and make the patient feel more comfortable is also an option.

Immunocompromised individuals are more at risk for infection and must take appropriate precautions to avoid infections, including those that could lead to viral ear infection. For otherwise healthy people, exercising proper hygiene is the best preventative measure for addressing viral ear infections. Washing hands regularly is recommended and people should cover their mouths and noses while sneezing and coughing to prevent the spread of infection.

The Health Board is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a The Health Board researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments
By burcidi — On Sep 17, 2013

@anamur-- I think using a netty pot with saline solution helps with viral infections in the ear. Saline solution can kill viruses and it will also help open up the ear canal.

By fBoyle — On Sep 16, 2013

@anamur-- Recovery time probably depends on the person and how bad the infection is. It took mine about three weeks to go away completely.

Doctors don't usually do anything for viral ear infections because there isn't much that can be done. If your symptoms worsen and if you develop dizziness, nausea, etc. from the infection, then they can try to drain your ears.

This was the main issue I had. I had a viral middle ear infection and my eustachian tubes were blocked. The change in inner ear pressure gave me nausea and dizziness. My doctor drained my ears and that resolved the problem. The infection disappeared soon after that.

I don't know any home remedies but it's always a good idea to keep the immune system strong. Eat a balanced diet and take multivitamins.

By serenesurface — On Sep 15, 2013

My doctor said that my ear infection is viral and that I will just have to wait for it to go away. He didn't prescribe me anything-- no antibiotics, no antivirals, nothing.

I have an ear ache from the infection but that's about it. How long will it take for a viral ear infection to go away? Is there anything I can do at home to help speed up recovery?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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