Ear Infections During Pregnancy: Causes, Symptoms & Remedies

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An ear infection while pregnant is a common occurrence. It mostly occurs in women who are likely prone to getting an earache. These infections most likely develop when there is an attack by a certain virus or bacteria in the eardrum, located in the middle ear. This attack results in the build-up of fluid, inflammation of the middle ear, and severe pain or otalgia. Chronic infections are recurring and, if not treated immediately, might lead to permanent damage of the inner and middle ear (1). Continue reading this post as we tell you about ear infections during pregnancy, their causes, signs, diagnosis, treatment, and precautions.

In This Article

Causes Of Ear Infections During Pregnancy

Many factors might cause an ear infection (acute otitis media). Your doctor is the right person to determine the exact cause of your pain and infection.

Pathogens:

Ear infections may occur when pathogens like bacteria or viruses find a way into the ear. These pathogens might cause common illnesses such as excess mucus, cold, allergies, sinus infectionsiAn inflammatory or swollen state of the sinus tissue , and swollen adenoidsiGlands located behind the nasal cavity , causing inflammation.

The inflammation leads to blockage in the Eustachian tubes (the tube that connects the middle ear and the pharynx). This blockage causes fluid build-up in the middle ear, resulting in an infection. It might lead to a temporary hearing loss in some cases (2).

Other Causes of a middle ear infection include:

  • A build-up of earwax (3)
  • The pressure created on the ear while resting or sleeping on the side

Ear infections may be acute or chronic. Acute infections are painful but remain only for a short period. Chronic infections recur and may lead to permanent damage in the inner and middle ears (1).
If you have been experiencing chronic ear infections, you could be at a greater risk of ear infection during pregnancy.

Symptoms Of Ear Infections During Pregnancy

There are several symptoms of an ear infection.

  • Earaches, which are severe and feel like a throbbing inside the ear
  • Hearing loss
  • Headache

    Headache is a sign of ear infection

    Image: IStock

  • Fluid discharge from the ear
  • A feeling of pressure inside the ear
  • Swelling in the inner or middle ear
  • Vertigo or a feeling that you are spinning

You may not notice the swelling inside the ear. Only the doctor can see it using the necessary devices.

Ear infections during pregnancy are quite common, mild, and usually resolve on their own. They can be caused by fluid build-up in the middle ear and other factors. However, if you experience pain or discomfort, seek medical help, as some ear infections may lead to adverse effects.

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Excruciating and lingering ear pain and a fever over 1040F (40°C) need prompt medical attention (16).

Home Remedies For Treating Ear Infections During Pregnancy

The tried-and-tested home remedies could be a better option, but it is always best to check with your doctor before using any of the below.

1. Vinegar

Both apple cider vinegar and white vinegar are known to be good fighters for all kinds of fungus (4). Vinegar works on the fungus and might remove it during the drainage process.

  • Take one teaspoon each of vinegar and water and mix well.
  • Lie down on your side such that the infected ear is on the top.
  • Now soak a cotton plug into the mixture and put it over the infected ear.
  • Let it be there for about 15 minutes and then remove the liquid by turning your head in the opposite direction.
  • Air-dry your ear completely.
  • If you do it twice a day, you might get rid of the infection within 2 or 3 days.

You may also put the mixture into the ear using a dropper. Squirm and then put some cotton in the ear. Let it remain for 15 minutes and then take away the cotton. Clean the ear using earbuds. Anecdotal evidence says these could help.

2. Salt bag

Earache due to cold or sinus could be relieved by placing a warm salt bag or warm water bottle on the infected ear. It is a traditional remedy that might work as a hot compress.

To put a salt bag, take 100g of salt in a pan and heat it. Seal the salt in a clean cotton cloth and make a pack out of it. Place the bag on the ear and dab it until the heat is lost. It may also reduce the pressurized feeling on the ear.

3. Garlic oil

Garlic has antibacterial properties that could ward off ear infections

Image: Shutterstock

Garlic has antibacterial properties that could ward off the ear infection (5). Some believe that putting around three drops of garlic oil into the infected ear using a Q-tip might help. It is a safe remedy, but if the infection is severe, you may not know it will pass with this remedy.

4. Olive or mineral oil

Put two drops of olive or mineral oil into the infected ear. The oil is likely to break down the blocked wax, which may then quickly come out of the ear (6). If you continue to experience pain, and the wax is too hard to soften quickly, you should visit a doctor.

5. Warm towel

Heat a towel or a flannel using a heater or a tumble dryer until it is warm. Place the warm towel over the infected ear. It could relieve the pain.

6. Steam inhalation

Inhalation of steam might loosen up the mucus and alleviate the ear pain and infection caused by cold, sinus, or flu.

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Neck stretching and rotations can help reduce the pressure built in the ear canal (16).

Disclaimer: MomJunction provides information but does not endorse it and is not responsible for any side effects or complications that might arise on use of these remedies. Doctor consultation is a must before trying any remedies.

Treatment For Ear Infections During Pregnancy

Ear infections are usually bacterial in nature, and the microbes could travel further inside your body and weaken the immune system. This might aggravate other infections and health issues. The primary treatment option is to seek medical care.

1. Antibiotics

For chronic ear infection, your doctor may prescribe antibiotics

Image: IStock

In case of severe and chronic ear infection, your doctor may prescribe antibiotics after ensuring that they do not adversely affect the fetus. They would prescribe only those drugs that fall under the pregnancy category as classified by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

  • Amoxicillin and Tylenol of category B are prescribed for pregnant women suffering from ear infections. Tylenol, also known as Acetaminophen, is a pain killer (7) that could relieve pain associated with an ear infection.
  • Medicated ear drops are also commonly prescribed. The drops may be directly placed on a Q-tip and then inserted into the ear. This way, the medicine works faster and might have a negligible effect on the growing fetus.

2. Surgery

Surgery is the last and a rare option that doctors might choose. If the ear infection does not go away, the doctor may have to perform surgery (known as myringotomy) to drain the fluid from the middle ear (8). They may also stick tubes into the ear to leak out the excess fluids. The removal of fluid could help you hear better and also relieve many associated symptoms.
Surgery is also an option if your adenoids become extremely large. It is opted in severe cases and is mostly postponed until after delivery to rule out any risks for both the mother and baby.

Over-the-counter Medications For Treating Ear Pain During Pregnancy

Over-the-counter pain relievers, such as acetaminophen and ibuprofen, can help treat earaches. Doctors often recommend using Paracetamol for mild to moderate pain during pregnancy. While some experts have suggested a possible connection between paracetamol during pregnancy and autism or ADHD in children, these claims are not well-supported and need more research (9). Pain-relief ear drops containing natural or homeopathic ingredients are also available without a prescription. They might contain well-studied ingredients—Belladonna, Wolfsbane, and Ferrum phosphoricum. However, it is advised to consult a healthcare provider before trying homeopathic remedies during pregnancy (10).

Can An Ear Infection Harm Your Baby?

As long as the infection in the ear does not pass into the bloodstream, it might not affect your unborn baby. You may take the medications to cure the infection in its initial stages itself.

Precautions To Keep Ear Infection Away

  • Avoid the entry of water into your ears. Water in the ears may increase the microbial content as it makes the ear moist.
  • Clean your ears periodically using cotton swabs to maintain hygiene (11).
  • Do not put earplugs if the ache is due to wax build-up. The cotton plugs may push the wax further into the ear, increasing the pressure and pain in the ear.

    Do not use earplugs if the ache is due to wax build-up

    Image: Shutterstock

  • Ear infections should be treated immediately. Alternative therapies, like homeopathy, may be tried.
protip_icon Quick tip
Follow the necessary hand hygiene and avoid exposure to known allergensiA substance or protein that can result in an allergic reaction in the body to prevent allergies, colds, and viral infections (2).

Swimmer’s Ear While Pregnant: What Is It All About?

Swimmer’s ear, also referred to as otitis externa, is an infection that occurs in the canal between the outer ear and eardrum. Though this infection is contracted in many ways, it is mainly caused when water enters the ears while swimming or bathing. It may also be due to an infected hair follicle in the ear or rigorous cleaning of the ear (12).

Symptoms Of Swimmer’s Ear

The symptoms of otitis externa in pregnancy include:

  • A clogged or blocked feeling
  • Itchy ear
  • Fever
  • Ear pain
  • Reduced hearing
  • Swollen lymph nodesiTiny, bean-shaped organs spread throughout the body and help maintain a healthy immune system

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Swimmer’s ear during pregnancy may also lead to fluid or pus drainage from the ears (16).

This should be treated immediately as it could lead to temporary hearing loss, and the infection would spread to the cranial nerve and brain. If you notice these symptoms, take immediate steps to treat the condition.

How Can You Treat Swimmer’s Ear?

  • You may prepare ear drops by mixing rubbing alcohol and vinegar in equal proportions. This natural remedy may dry out the remaining water present in the ear (13). Do not use ear drops if you have damaged eardrums, ear tubes, or already existing ear drainage.
  • Applying a warm towel or hot water bottle may also relieve the pain.

If the above home treatments don’t work, you should consult your doctor. They may prescribe eardrops containing acetic or boric acid; if it is severe, oral antibiotics might help combat the infection.

protip_icon Quick fact
Expecting mothers should avoid taking aspirin or ibuprofen. Instead, acetaminophen may be used under medical guidance (16).

Can You Prevent Swimmer’s Ear?

Some of the simple measures that may help in protecting your ears are as follows:

  • Do not immerse yourself completely in the water while swimming. Try to keep the head above the water level.
  • Wear earplugs and a swimmer’s cap while swimming.
  • Avoid scratching your ears.
  • Tilt your head once you are out of the pool to drain out the remaining water.
  • Dry the ears using a dry towel or a hairdryer soon after swimming.

    Dry the ears soon after swimming

    Image: IStock

Frequently Asked Questions

1. Are earache drops safe during pregnancy?

It is recommended to refrain from using any OTC drops for earache during pregnancy. Your doctor may examine you and prescribe safe ear drops for you based on the underlying cause as well as the stage of pregnancy.

2. Are ear infections common during pregnancy?

According to research, more than 80% of pregnant women experience ENT infections and treatment for the same at some point of time in pregnancy (14).

3. How long do ear infections last?

Most ear infections clear up within three days. At times, it may take a week before your symptoms begin to resolve (16).

4. What can I take for an ear infection while pregnant?

It is not safe for expecting mothers to use aspirin or ibuprofen for pain during pregnancy. Acetaminophen is usually considered safe during pregnancy. However, you should ask for your gynecologist’s consent regarding the dosage and safety before using any medicines (16). Your healthcare provider may weigh risks versus benefits and may prescribe certain antibiotics such as beta-lactam antibiotics, macrolides, acyclovir, or antihistamines to manage ear infections during pregnancy (14).

5. Is it safe to use peroxide drops during an ear infection in pregnancy?

Hydrogen peroxide is a non-prescription solution that is commonly available and used to manage ear infections. However, you must consult your doctor to check whether or not it is safe during pregnancy. Depending on your overall health, stage in pregnancy, and other factors, your doctor may help you know whether or not peroxide is safe for you (17).

6. How do I sleep with an ear infection?

Try to sleep on the other side (of the affected ear) and keep your head elevated. Avoid contact with blankets and hair to prevent further irritation with an ear infection.

Ear infection while pregnant is common and proper care and keeping the ears dry can prevent it to a large extent. It may develop from bacteria, viruses, or even an ear wax build-up or the pressure created on the ear while sleeping or resting on the side. So, if you have a severe and recurrent earache, you should consult a doctor to avoid further complications. You can also follow the tested home remedies mentioned above to get rid of the ear infection.

Infographic: Ways To Deal With Ear Infections During Pregnancy

Ear infections can be common during pregnancy and can cause pain and discomfort. The infographic below includes some effective home remedies for managing ear infections during pregnancy. However, consult your doctor before using any of the methods to avoid complications.

ear infections during pregnancy (infographic)

Illustration: Momjunction Design Team

Key Pointers

  • Pregnant women are susceptible to ear infections caused by bacterial or viral attacks, which can lead to fluid buildup, inflammation, and excruciating pain.
  • Symptoms of ear infections include intense earaches, headaches, and fluid discharge. They might also lead to hearing loss and a sensation of pressure within the ear.
  • Failure to treat ear infections promptly can result in complications that can endanger the baby’s health.
  • Swimmer’s ear is caused by water exposure and can be treated with antibiotics.
  • Preventive measures for swimmer’s ear include using earplugs, refraining from swimming in contaminated water, and using a hairdryer to dry the ears after swimming.
ear infection while pregnant_illustration

Image: Stable Diffusion/MomJunction Design Team

References

MomJunction's articles are written after analyzing the research works of expert authors and institutions. Our references consist of resources established by authorities in their respective fields. You can learn more about the authenticity of the information we present in our editorial policy.

1. Ear infection – chronic; U.S. Department of Health and Human Services National Institutes of Health
2. Ear Infection (Otitis Media); Cleveland Clinic (2019)
3. Got an ear full? Here’s some advice; Harvard Health Publishing (2018)
4. Carol S. Johnston and Cindy A. Gaas; Vinegar: Medicinal Uses and Antiglycemic Effect; MedGenMed (2006)
5. Garlic; main campus Winchester Hospital
6. Earwax; San Diego State University Student Health Services (2013)
7. FDA Drug Safety Communication: FDA has reviewed possible risks of pain medicine use during pregnancy; U.S. FDA (2015)
8. Ear Infection Surgery; University of Rochester Medical Center
9. Pain relief; Bumps
10. Ear Drops; Cleveland Clinic
11. Ear Care Tips; Cleveland Clinic
12. Swimmer’s ear; U.S. Department of Health and Human Services National Institutes of Health
13. Otitis externa: Get rid of swimmer’s ear; University of Iowa Hospitals & Clinics
14. Petros V Vlastarakos et al. Treating common ear problems in pregnancy: what is safe?; National Library of Medicine
15. Ear infections; NHS
16. How to Treat Swimmer’s Ear Naturally During Pregnancy; American Pregnancy Association
17. Hydrogen Peroxide for Ear Infections / Wax; The Royal Victorian Eye And Ear Hospital
18. 3 Home Remedies for an Ear Infection; Cleveland Clinic

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Dr. Sangeeta Agrawal
Dr. Sangeeta AgrawalFRCOG, MD, DNB, DGO
Dr. Sangeeta Agrawal is an obstetrician and gynecologist with around 29 years of experience in the field. She worked in Royal London, St. Bartholomew’s, North Middlesex, and Barnet General hospitals in London and currently runs her clinic in Mumbai.

Read full bio of Dr. Sangeeta Agrawal
Rebecca is a pregnancy writer and editor with a passion for delivering research-based and engaging content in areas of fertility, pregnancy, birth, and post-pregnancy. She did her graduation in Biotechnology and Genetics from Loyola Academy, Osmania University and obtained a certification in ‘Nutrition and Lifestyle in Pregnancy’ from Ludwig Maximilian University of Munich (LMU).

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Swati Patwal
Swati PatwalM.Sc. (Food & Nutrition), MBA
Swati Patwal is a clinical nutritionist, a Certified Diabetes Educator (CDE) and a toddler mom with more than a decade of experience in diverse fields of nutrition. She started her career as a CSR project coordinator for a healthy eating and active lifestyle project catering to school children.

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Aneesha holds a Bachelor's degree in Biotechnology from USTM, Meghalaya and Master’s degree in Applied Microbiology from VIT, Vellore. With two years of experience, she has worked on different research projects in the field of Food Sciences.

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