Excess fluid in the ears provides a perfect environment for bacteria to grow and may lead to ear infections, which, in turn, can result in eardrum scarring, middle ear cysts and hearing loss, according to Healthline. Frequent ear infections in young children are especially concerning because they can cause hearing loss that results in speech and language delays.
When no ear infection is present, fluid in the ears may not cause any obvious symptoms, explains MedlinePlus. Young children might turn the television volume up to compensate for hearing loss, and older children and adults might complain that their hearing seems muffled.
There are multiple causes of fluid in the ears. For example, sinus infections, colds and allergies can cause the Eustachian tubes to swell and partially close, allowing fluid to build up. Young children are more susceptible to this because they have shorter Eustachian tubes than older children and adults. Inhaled irritants such as cigarette smoke can also cause the Eustachian tubes to swell, notes MedlinePlus.
Fluid in the ears often goes away on its own, but treatment options for persistent cases may include nasal steroids for allergies, antibiotics for ear infections, pain relievers and surgery to drain the fluid, explains WebMD.