An ear infection that is also known as Acute Otitis Media, is an infection of the middle ear – present just behind the eardrum. A viral or bacterial infection can cause the infection, which is more common in children than adults. Most ear infections clear up with time, so there are fewer chances of getting serious complications.
Ear infections are both acute and chronic. Acute infections last for a short time, while chronic need serious monitoring.
Antibiotics are recommended to clear up the infections if the chronic infection has led to hearing problems.
Causes of an ear infection
An ear infection occurs when fluid building starts in the middle ear. It causes swelling of the ear and can cause blockage. It may cause hearing problems if left untreated. Common causes include smoking, colds, mucus building, sinus infection, flu, fever, allergy, congestion, infection of the throat, and swelling of nasal passages.
Other conditions that may cause ear infections include:
Otitis media with effusion
Otitis media with effusion is the condition in which flow occurs without any bacterial or viral infection. It can happen due to improper functioning or blockage of the Eustachian tubes in the ear. Sometimes, the fluid remains there even after infection and causes swelling.
Chronic suppurative otitis media (CSOM)
Chronic suppurative otitis media is a condition with persistent drainage from the middle ear that lasts for more than 2-6 weeks. This condition usually does not go away with routine medical treatments. It sometimes also make a hole in the eardrum and lead to severe damage to the middle ear.
Chronic otitis media with effusion
In this condition, the infection return again and again. The fluid remains in the middle ear and immediately builds up after a bacterial or viral ear infection. Fluid buildup blocks the ear and makes it difficult to hear properly.
Signs and symptoms of ear infections
Following symptoms are common in both adults and children.
- Ear pain
- Discomfort of ear
- Hearing problems
- Trouble sleeping
- Loss of appetite
- Puss like discharge from the ear
All these symptoms can be temporary, but in the case of chronic ear infection – symptoms are less conspicuous. Pain is usually more when both ears are infected. Newborns and children less than one year should always see a doctor if having a high fever.
Risk factors associated with an ear infections
Ear infections are usually common in children than adults. Risk factors that are associated with infection include:
Children are more vulnerable to ear infections because of the shape and size of their Eustachian tubes. These tubes are narrower in children. So children less than two years are more prone to infections. Their immunity is still building, and they are at higher risk of getting ear infections.
Similarly, school-going children also have more chances of getting the infection because there are more chances of getting cold and flu.
Bottle-fed infants are more prone to ear infections than breastfed.
Seasonal allergies also contribute to infections. People are at greater risk of getting ear infections in winter due to seasonal flu, colds, and allergies.
Climate and air quality
People living in Alaska region have more cases of these infections. Bad air quality with a high level of smoke or air pollutants also promotes these infections.
Children having cleft palates are at greater risk of getting ear infections because their Eustachian tubes are unable to drain properly.
A doctor will examine your ear for any kind of bacterial or viral infection. Based on your symptoms, your doctor will diagnose them. A pneumatic otoscope is an instrument with a light and magnifying glass that helps a doctor sees inside your ear.
If your infection is serious, then your doctor will take a sample of the fluid from the ear.
A CT Scan may also be prescribed by your doctor to check either the infection has spread to other areas or not. In case of chronic ear infections, hearing tests are also performed.
Most ear infections go away on their own, and there is no need for medication. If ear infections are causing pain, pain killers can be taken by the prescription of a health care provider.
To relieve the mild ear pain, a warm cloth can be applied to the ear. Take painkillers or use ear drops to relieve it.
In case of severe infection, you must consult your doctor to get the dosage of antibiotics. If ear pain or other symptoms are not improving even with antibiotics, then surgery is the last option.
How to prevent ear infections?
Following measures can be adopted to avoid ear infections as much as possible.
- Carefully breastfeed the infants.
- Adopt hygienic practices to avoid bacterial and viral infections.
- Make sure to avoid secondhand smoke.
- Teach your school-going children to frequently wash their hands. Teach them to cover their face while sneezing.