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Understanding Ear, Nose, and Throat Infections

An ear exam

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Infections happen when germs get inside your body and make you sick.

Germs are tiny living things that can cause infections.

  • Germs are found all over the world, in all kinds of places.

Sometimes germs give us an infection and make us sick.

You can get an infection in any part of your body.

Anyone can get ear, nose, and throat infections, but you are at extra risk if:

  • You spend time around others who are sick
  • You live with other people and they get sick
  • You smoke cigarettes or spend time around others who smoke

Some people may get ear infections more often or easier than others:

  • People with diabetes
  • Children with down syndrome
  • People with cancer
  • People with HIV or other immune disorders

What is an ear infection?

Your ears are connected to your throat by a tube.

Harmful germs can get trapped in this tube and cause an infection.

You should see your doctor if you:

  • Feel pain in your ear (earache)
  • Feel itching inside your ear
  • Have trouble hearing
  • Hear buzzing sounds
  • Feel warm (have a fever)

What is a nose infection?

Germs can get into your nose and cause swelling.

Nose infections are sometimes called nasal or sinus infections.

  • Sinuses are spaces filled with air behind your nose, eyes, and cheeks.

You may want to see your doctor if you:

  • Have a stuffy or runny nose
  • Feel pain in your head (headache) or face or around your teeth
  • Have trouble tasting or smelling
  • See yellow, grey or green fluid come out of your nose
  • Have a cough that won’t go away
  • Feel warm (have a fever)

What is a throat infection?

Germs can get into your throat and cause your throat to get sore and swollen.

Germs can also infect your tonsils.

  • Tonsils are balls of tissue behind your tongue.

You may have a throat infection if you:

  • Feel pain in your throat
  • Feel pain when you swallow
  • Feel warm (have a fever)

If you are feeling sick, call the doctor.

Tell the doctor about what you are feeling in your body (your symptoms).

  • Try your best to explain exactly how you feel – this will help you get the best treatment!

Follow the doctor’s advice about what to do.

You may need to see the doctor for an examination.

Your doctor will check your ears, nose, and throat for signs of infection.

  • For example, your doctor may use a cotton swab to test your saliva (your spit) for germs.

The doctor may also look inside your ears and into your throat.

Your doctor will tell you what to do to get better.

The doctor may prescribe medicine.

The doctor may tell you to rest.

Make sure you understand all of the doctor’s instructions before you leave the office.

There are other things you can do to help yourself feel better!

Get plenty of rest and sleep.

Eat three meals each day, including fruits and vegetables.

Drink plenty of fluids.

If people around you are sick, you can stay healthy by:

  • Washing your hands often with soap and warm water
  • Keeping your hands away from your nose, eyes, and mouth
  • Staying away when someone sneezes or blows his or her nose
  • Not sharing the same forks, spoons, or straws with people who are sick

You can also prevent infections by living a healthy lifestyle.

If you smoke, try to quit.

Get lots of exercise.

Be active – do interesting things with friends.

Learn more about preventing ear, nose, and throat infections.

WebMD Cold & Flu Center

Ways to Prevent Colds and Flu

Tips for Relieving Cold and Flu Symptoms

PDF icon ENGLISH-FP_ENT Infections_Oct2014.pdf761.98 KB
Last updated on Thu, 06/10/2010 - 16:11