There are a number of different infections of the ears, and all are extremely distressing for patients.
Middle ear infections
These infections cause a deep ear pain and hearing loss, and often lead later to a sudden discharge of pus from the ear. This normally subsides, but can lead to a chronic ear discharge through a perforated ear drum. Rarely the infection is caused by a cholesteatoma which is a destructive ball of tissue that needs to be removed as soon as possible. Cholesteatoma may start as a discharging ear without the pain, and only later causes hearing loss. If you think you might have a cholesteatoma, speak to your GP and see a ENT ear specialist as soon as possible. The earlier you see someone, the greater the chance you will be able to preserve your hearing long term. Cholesteatoma also may lead to paralysis of the face, loss of balance, and brain abscesses with meningitis.
Inner ear infections
These infections do not cause pain, but generally cause sudden hearing loss and / or loss of balance. If you find that you have either of these problems, I would seek emergency medical help. There are treatments that can be provided in the first 48 hours which may help you avoid long term complications.
Ear canal infections
These infections are known as otitis externa or swimmer’s ear. Patients have a very tender ear that is painful to touch. Occasionally there is a little bit of pus and hearing loss, but tenderness is the main problem. Treatment for this is in the form of drops and sprays rather than any tablets. If otitis externa goes on for a long time, there is a chance that the diagnosis is wrong or a fungal infection has taken over. Understanding this disease is important to avoid an infection that continues on for weeks and months.
External ear infection
Infections of the ear (pinna) are commonplace. They could start from an insect bite or after a piercing, but all require treatment to avoid long term deformity of the ear. The most serious kind of infection is chondritis, which eventually results in a deformed cauliflower ear. Seek advice swiftly, as some infections require admission to hospital for antibiotics via the vein.