Is my severe ear infection worth yet another trip to the doctor?
July 15, 2012 5:34 AM   Subscribe

Hello, AskMefi, let's talk about my ears (again). I am currently in the midst of a severe ear infection. People keep telling me to go to the ER, but I'm not sure what that would accomplish.

Last Thursday morning I woke up with my left ear swollen shut and in a great deal of pain. I went to the doctor that morning, she was able to look into the ear and confirm that I have both an inner ear infection plus a middle ear infection. She gave me a prescription of Augmentin (Amoxicillin Clavulanate) as well prescription for ear drops.

By 8pm the left ear had sealed completely where I couldn't even get relief by lightly tugging on the earlobe, and I was in agony. I got perhaps two hours of sleep total that night.

On Friday morning I went back to the doctor, she took one glance at the left ear and said that it had swollen to the point that she couldn't see inside at all, and that what I needed was a wick placed in the ear to help the medication get back where it needed to go. Because they don't perform that procedure in their office, she sent me to Urgent Care.

The urgent care doctor was able to get the wick in, but could not see inside the ear at all. He gave me a different ear drop prescirption (Ciprodex) and also gave me a prescription of Tylenol 3 (tylenol + codeine) for the pain. That helped quite a bit.

By Saturday morning my right ear had also swollen shut, and my jaw has been completely distended since Thursday making it very difficult for me to chew food. Yesterday I ate mostly soup.

I have been taking the Augmentin since Thursday afternoon, and have been doing one kind or other of the ear drops since then. I am currently functionally deaf. The good news is that the pain levels have dropped to the point where this morning I did not feel the need to take any Tylenol 3. I can hear/feel some liquid moving around inside my right ear when I walk around, and I even felt some motion in my left ear when I first sat up this morning.

My question is this: should my ears have started to open up again yet after three days on the antibiotics, or is this the normal course. My friends and family keep messaging me that the symptoms are worse so I need to go to the ER, but I don't see what that would accomplish beyond having a third doctor confirm that yes, I have an ear infection.

posted by Lokheed to Health & Fitness (16 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Keep taking the Augmentin. Antibiotics usually take a few days to have any noticeable effect.
posted by scruss at 5:44 AM on July 15, 2012 [2 favorites]

Three days isn't very long. Once the antibiotics are doing their work, you'd still expect it to take a week or two for your immune system to get in the swing of things and clear the infection.

However, if your symptoms are getting wrose (and it sounds like they are), you should go and see your doctor again. Your ears are important, and worth the money and inconvenience, even if it means getting the run-around.

Although it might not help in the short-term, with a severe infection like this, perhaps you should ask your doctor for a referral to a specialist, to see whether there is any long-term damage, or for suggestions about how to prevent it happening again?
posted by JeanDupont at 5:53 AM on July 15, 2012 [4 favorites]

You should be seen by an ENT. When I get ear infections I find that the oral antibiotics are less effective than ear drops but if your ear is so swollen that the drops aren't reliably getting in you're not getting the full dose. The degree of swelling you're describing would send me to the ER out of concern that the infection is moving into your bones - not something to mess around with. Go to the ER!
posted by leslies at 6:02 AM on July 15, 2012 [3 favorites]

I wouldn't go to the ER, but if you don't start seeing improvement tomorrow I would go back to the doctor.
posted by something something at 6:25 AM on July 15, 2012 [2 favorites]

I will second the recommendation to go see an ENT. Your infection seems more serious than normal and you really want an expert when a possibility is permanent hearing loss.
posted by dcjd at 7:21 AM on July 15, 2012

Did the urgent care put a wick in your right ear, too? It sounds like you need one.

Besides confirming that you have an ear infection, a doc can give you enough information that you don't need to speculate about when it's appropriate to go to the doc or ER again. You should ask what the doctor expects to happen, and what indicators to look for, e.g. 'if it's not substantially better by Tuesday, give me a call.'

You should take this seriously, and err on the side of caution. Not going to one doc or another very soon seems foolish.
posted by jon1270 at 7:22 AM on July 15, 2012

Response by poster: Ok, you win. I went back an re-read the discharge papers from urgent care two days ago. "Immediately return to the clinic or go to the nearest Emergency Room if any of the following occur: worsening ear pain, increast swelling or redness of the outer ear, high fever, bleeding form the ear, or sudden loss of hearing." I think losing my right ear, combined with functionally becoming deaf fits those requirements. I guess I'm headed back to urgent care. Yay.
posted by Lokheed at 7:44 AM on July 15, 2012 [5 favorites]

Follow up with an ENT.
posted by desjardins at 7:50 AM on July 15, 2012

Good, head to the ER. See a specialist after.

My husband is going to have ear surgery in the near future because he ignored his ear pain. FOR THREE MONTHS. The otolaryngologist says he doubt he'll regain his full hearing.
posted by BlueHorse at 8:57 AM on July 15, 2012

I recently had an inner ear infection which took a little over 2 weeks to clear up with the prescribed medication.
posted by DisreputableDog at 9:36 AM on July 15, 2012

So glad you went to Urgent Care! Now for the next available ENT appointment!
posted by Sidhedevil at 11:01 AM on July 15, 2012

Response by poster: An update: the urgent care doc said I was definitely right to come in, but he also said that it appeared the antibiotics were working (hence the reduction in my pain level), and he was able to get a fairly good look at my right ear (with the tiniest scope, which still hurt like hell) and said it really didn't look that bad. He said it would probably be Tuesday before the pain was gone completely, and it would likely be Friday or Saturday before I got my hearing back completely.

In just the six hours since then I have noticed a definite improvement. With both ears, I can open them up by gently tugging on the earlobe. That hadn't been possible with my left ear since sometime on Thursday. I have a ways to go, but the worst seems to be past.

The weirdest thing is, when I lie down I keep hearing spontaneous rounds of applause in my left ear, like a studio audience responding to a lit up APPLAUSE sign. It's the darndest thing.

I'll be making an appointment to follow up with an ENT next week, so I can hopefully prevent this from ever happening again.
posted by Lokheed at 2:05 PM on July 15, 2012 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Believe me, I feel your pain. I suffer from chronic ear infections too. Here are a few hard-learned remedies I've learned:

1. The swelling is what is causing the pain, mostly. So try to reduce the swelling with the following-- cold packs, and also try an anti-inflammatory like Motrin or any other ibuprofen to reduce the swelling, thus reducing the discomfort.
2. If you don't own one, please please buy a hair dryer. I own one, and I'm a bald guy. Turn it on low (low!) and point it in the general direction of your ear. Don't do this so close to your ear that it hurts-- the hair dryer should make you feel better. If you are doing it right, you will know, because it will bring immediate and blissful relief from your agony.
3. Finally, don't mess around with this stuff. Go back to the doctor if it hurts, and don't be shy about telling anyone who will listen how much it hurts. If you feel like you aren't getting the right pain meds, let them know. And don't take no for an answer. I wish I could do what my wife does in this situation, which is to start crying-- it works wonders for her with the doctors.
4. This should be a simple one, but if you are getting a lot of discharge, please sleep on your side with the offending ear down so that it can drain. If you are directed to put swabs in your ear to assist with drainage, OK, maybe, but they've never really worked for me. Sometimes good-old-gravity is your best friend in getting all that mucusy puss out of your ear. And out is where you want it.

People who don't have chronic ear infections just don't know how bad it hurts. Good luck with your treatment, and I hope your are feeling better soon!
posted by seasparrow at 4:48 PM on July 15, 2012 [5 favorites]

The weirdest thing is, when I lie down I keep hearing spontaneous rounds of applause in my left ear, like a studio audience responding to a lit up APPLAUSE sign. It's the darndest thing
Many years ago I developed a severe, painful ear infection in my left ear and the doctor prescribed antibiotics and drops. That had to be back in the mid-1970s, but I still remember laying in bed about 12 hours after I'd gotten home and taken the first dose of pills/drops and hearing a loud noise in my left ear like a burst of applause. It was so loud and "real" that it made me sit up slightly in surprise. I fell back asleep and by the next morning my pain had decreased appreciably and my hearing in that ear was starting to return. Best of luck to you!
posted by Oriole Adams at 6:06 PM on July 15, 2012

Response by poster: OMG the hair dryer! Best thing I have ever pointed in the general direction of my ear! Thank you!!!
posted by Lokheed at 6:37 PM on July 15, 2012

Don't forget to finish your ENTIRE round of antibiotics, too! Very, very important.
posted by nicebookrack at 5:40 AM on July 16, 2012 [1 favorite]

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