How Long Can You Leave an Adult Ear Infection Untreated?

by | Dec 19, 2023 | Ear, Nose and Throat

Around 20% of all ear infections occur in adults. Many underestimate their significance until they are plagued with severe or persistent symptoms and discomfort. It’s imperative to remain vigilant in recognizing the signs of ear infections and seeking timely attention. Use this guide to learn the complexities surrounding adult ear infections and explore the causes, types, and consequences of neglecting these conditions.

Common Causes of Adult Ear Infections

Adult ear infections often result from bacterial or viral infections, sinus infections, allergies, moisture in the ear, or compromised immune systems. Persistent symptoms warrant medical attention. Below is a more in-depth look at these culprits.

1. Bacterial Infections

The most common bacterial causes of ear infections in adults include Streptococcus pneumoniae and Haemophilus influenzae.

2. Viral Infections

Influenza and cold viruses routinely contribute to adult ear infections, in addition to their prominent roles in upper respiratory ailments

3. Fungal Infections

Aspergillus and Candida contribute to 90% of fungal ear infections and are highly prevalent among immunocompromised individuals.

Types of Adult Ear Infections

Acute Otitis Media

Acute Otitis Media affects the middle ear. Bacterial or viral infections trigger the condition and often cause an accumulation of fluid behind the eardrum. This buildup can cause symptoms that range from pain and fluid draining to hearing difficulties, so prompt medical attention from an ear doctor in Encino is essential for an accurate diagnosis and appropriate treatment, which may include antibiotics and pain management.

Otitis Externa

Otitis externa, or swimmer’s ear, is a bacterial infection in the outer ear canal. The condition is highly prevalent among swimmers and develops from the excess moisture in the structure. Symptoms include ear pain, redness, swelling, and drainage. Treatment by an ear doctor in Encino often consists of ear cleaning or prescription topical antibiotics to help clear the infection.

Potential Complications of Untreated Ear Infections

If left untreated, adult ear infections can lead to a host of hearing and health complications, including:

Hearing Impairment

ear infection Hearing impairments are a common side effect of untreated ear infections due to fluid and pressure buildup inside the ear. These issues disrupt the normal conduction of sound waves, leading to hearing difficulties. Hearing impairments fall into four categories: conductive and sensorineural, mixed-sensorineural and conductive, and auditory neuropathy spectrum disorder (ANSD). Hearing loss is a common complication of untreated adult ear infections.


The most notable complaints about tinnitus are persistent ringing, buzzing, or hissing sounds in the ears. Ear infections alter the function of the delicate structures of the ear and disrupt auditory signals. While treating the underlying infection can alleviate tinnitus, chronic cases require specialized medical interventions, such as hearing aids, masking devices, or cognitive behavioral therapy for symptom management.

Labyrinthitis (Balance Disorder)

Labyrinthitis is an inner ear disorder characterized by inflammation of the labyrinth, a complex structure involved in hearing and balance. This disruption in equilibrium can significantly impact daily life. Symptoms include dizziness, vertigo, nausea, and hearing loss. Treatment involves using medications to manage symptoms and address the underlying infection.

Perforation of the Eardrum

Another serious complication of untreated ear infections is the perforation of the eardrum. Prolonged pressure or infection weakens the eardrum, increasing the risk of rupture. Symptoms of a perforated eardrum include sudden ear pain, drainage, and potential hearing loss. The risk of eardrum perforation highlights the importance of addressing adult ear infections in a timely manner to help prevent structural damage to the ear.

Infection Spread

Without immediate treatment, ear infections can spread beyond the initial site, affecting adjacent tissues and structures within the ear, resulting in increased pain, inflammation, and complications. In severe cases, progression to systemic shock or sepsis is likely once the infection reaches the bloodstream.

Duration and Progression of Untreated Adult Ear Infections

Understanding the difference between acute and chronic ear infections is a crucial aspect of gauging the duration and progression of an untreated ear infection. Acute infections typically manifest with a sudden onset of symptoms, like ear pain and fluid drainage, and usually resolve within a few weeks if treated properly. Chronic infections, on the other hand, persist or recur much longer, requiring a more invasive treatment approach.

If ear infections are left unattended, the progression of symptoms can become concerning. The initial discomfort and pain might intensify, accompanied by more fluid drainage and even hearing loss.

Ear Infection Progression and the Immunocompromised

Usually, a robust immune response is sufficient enough to defend against invading pathogens, which helps the body recognize and prevent infections. With ear infections, a healthy immune response can help reduce the duration and severity of the symptoms. On the other hand, individuals with compromised immune systems and chronic illnesses like diabetes or who have undergone certain medical procedures like a splenectomy tend to be more susceptible to persistent, recurring, and more severe ear infections. Because ear infections develop and impact individuals differently, it’s imperative to see an ENT specialist to treat any underlying concerns that lower the body’s resistance to pathogens to prevent ear infections.

Ear Infection Treatment

Timely diagnosis of an ear infection through physical examination and possibly imaging is imperative for effective treatment, so if you notice any of the previously mentioned symptoms, seek out care as quickly as possible. Ear doctors in Encino prescribe targeted medications, such as antibiotics, antifungals, and pain relievers, tailored to the specific infection to aid healing and recovery.

Home Care and Remedies

Self-care is complementary to medical ear infection treatments. Warm compresses and over-the-counter pain relievers are beneficial in alleviating earaches and pain. Consult your ENT specialist before starting any self-care regimens and medicines to prevent treatment contradictions.

Moreover, it’s crucial to keep water out of the ears. Introducing moisture to the internal ear environment increases the risk of pathogens that exacerbate irritation, inflammation, fluid or pressure buildup, and possible complications. Taking preventative measures, like avoiding swimming or using earplugs while showering, is beneficial to a more conducive environment for healing.


When left untreated, adult ear infections can lead to severe complications and additional ear health challenges like balance disorders, tinnitus, or hearing loss. Learn to recognize the different causes and types of ear infections so you can feel empowered to seek timely ear infection treatment from an ear doctor in Encino when symptoms arise. Prompt medical attention action is always the best prescription for maintaining your ear and overall health.