What Causes Ear Infections?
Middle ear infection (otitis media) often occurs after a cold or with an infection of the upper airway. The Eustachian tube aerates the middle ear to prevent fluid from collecting. The Eustachian tube is a channel from the back of the throat to the ear allowing air to fill the middle ear space. When fluid occurs, it is initially sterile, but with time, it can become infected.
What is Swimmer’s Ear?
Otitis Externa (swimmer’s ear) is an infection of the external ear canal. If there is too much wax in the ear canal, water, moisture, and debris may become trapped, increasing the risk for infection. Water from a pond, lake, ocean, and even a hot tub that houses increased bacteria can result in otitis externa. Believe it or not, Q-tips can cause external otitis due to trauma to the skin of the canal!
Why Do Children Get Ear Infections so Frequently?
Because the Eustachian tube is smaller in children, it is more prone to swelling; when this occurs, fluid is trapped in the middle ear. This fluid presses against the eardrum, causing pain, and can harbor germs that lead to infection. The result is an earache and, in some cases, loss of hearing.
What Are the Symptoms of an Ear Infection?
Symptoms of otitis media include: ear pain, fever, decrease in hearing, and possibly drainage from the ear. Treatment may include a course of antibiotics. Long-term fluid may necessitate the need to insert tympanostomy tubes, a small tube placed through the eardrum, that serves a similar function as the Eustachian tube. This is a procedure performed by an ear physician based on the results of a hearing test battery and the medical history.
The hallmark signs of otitis media are pain and pressure in the ear and fluid drainage. These may be accompanied by a low-grade fever and hearing loss. Infants are often fussier than usual, and may cry inconsolably, refuse to eat and have trouble sleeping. They may also pull or tug on their ears.
Should You See a Doctor?
The sooner an acute ear infection is treated, the lower the chances of it developing into a chronic condition. Schedule an appointment with our clinic if:
- You experience fluid discharge, bloody fluid, or pus from your ear.
- Symptoms of an ear infection last longer than a day.
- You are in extreme pain.
- Your child shows symptoms and is under 6 months of age.
- Your toddler or infant shows symptoms following an upper respiratory infection or cold.
Can an Ear Infection Cause Complications?
If left untreated, chronic ear infections can lead to a variety of complications including hearing loss, damage to the bones in the middle ear, balance problems, a middle ear cyst called a cholesteatoma, facial paralysis and inflammation of the brain. For these reasons, early detection and treatment are crucial. Better still is prevention.
An Untreated Infection Can Lead to Mastoiditis.
In addition to pain and discomfort, a middle ear infection can cause tiny air cells in the mastoid bone to fill up with pus. This is call a mastoid infection or mastoiditis. As the infection spreads, potentially reaching the brain, the bone is destroyed, resulting in hearing loss. If antibiotics are unsuccessful in clearing up the infection, then mastoid surgery may be needed.
What Are the Symptoms of Mastoiditis?
Symptoms of mastoiditis include swelling, redness, and tenderness of the ear lobe and area behind the ear as well as drainage of fluids from the ear, fever, irritability and lethargy.
How Is Mastoiditis Treated?
Many cases of mastoiditis are treated successfully with antibiotics. Chronic cases may require frequent visits for thorough ear cleanings. When antibiotics fail to treat the problem adequately, or it recurs frequently, a mastoid surgery, or mastoidectomy may be necessary.
How Are Ear Infections Treated?
OTC or Prescription Medication Options
Treating an ear infection begins at home. To help soothe symptoms, gently press a warm washcloth against the affected ear. Eardrops and over-the-counter medications such as acetaminophen or ibuprofen can help relieve pain. Avoid aspirin, which can be dangerous to young children.
Up to 80% of ear infections may go away without antibiotics.NPR
Your doctor will likely prescribe antibiotics to treat a chronic ear infection. Common options include amoxicillin. Antibiotics should always be taken until used up, even if you or your child’s symptoms appear to be improving; otherwise, the infection could worsen.
Surgery for Chronic Infections
When medication is not effective, a surgical solution involving ear tubes may be considered. These are inserted in the tympanic membrane, commonly known as the ear drum, and provide ventilation, keeping the ear clear and preventing infection. Most ear tubes remain in place anywhere from six to 18 months and eventually fall out on their own. If not, surgery to remove them is performed.