Ear infections are one of the most common health problems faced by children and adults alike. However, children are more prone to this problem. There are two types of an ear infection –
- Acute Ear Infection – Lasts for a few days but painful.
- Chronic Ear Infection – Lasts for a long period of time which can lead to several complications.
Usually, ear infections are painful in nature that can show a variety of signs and symptoms. An infection in the middle ear is called Acute Otitis Media while an outer ear infection is called a ‘Swimmer’s ear’.
Causes of Ear Infection
Generally, an ear infection can develop due to a fluid buildup or blockage in the middle ear. As a result, the eustachian tubes get blocked or swollen due to infection. This can result in a wide range of problems for the affected person. Bacterial and viral infections are common factors behind an ear infection.
Some other causes for an ear infection include the following –
- Sinus Infections
- Cold and Flu
- Smoking Cigarettes
- Excess Mucus
- Infected Adenoids
Signs and Symptoms of Ear Infection
Loss of balance, dizziness, itchiness and extreme pain are some of the common symptoms of an ear infection. In some cases, it can cause a fever of up to 102° F with some swelling around the affected area. In children, you can identify an ear infection if he/she is constantly trying to scratch inside the ear. Here is a list of some other signs and symptoms which will help to identify an ear infection –
- Change or Loss in hearing
- Fluid or Pus Discharge from the Ear
- Sense of Fullness or Pressure Inside the Ear
- Visible Swelling or Inflammation of the Ear
- Sickness accompanied by Fever
Diagnosis for Ear Infection
Most ear infections are mild and can cure itself within a few days time. Therefore, you should wait for at least 3-4 days before seeing a doctor. In the meanwhile, you can go to any pharmacy and get Off the Counter painkillers and antibiotics to help ease the pain.
Thereafter, you should visit or consult a doctor if the situation hasn’t improved after a few days. The doctor will use a device called an otoscope to look inside your ear. It consists of small light and a small magnifying glass.
With the help of this device, he will look for any form of fluid formation, inflammation, air bubbles or redness inside the ear. Simply put, he will look for the cause behind the blockage.
In some cases, he may test the fluid discharge to ascertain the exact kind of infection. He may also demand a CT scan of the head to check if the infection has spread to other areas. A hearing test may be needed in case of chronic ear infections.
Treatment for Ear Infection
The nature of Ear infection will determine the treatment for the same. For inner ear infections, doctors may prescribe antibiotics. Accordingly, he will prescribe ear drops and antibiotic tablets for outer ear infections. In the case of antibiotics, patients need to complete the full course or duration of taking the medicine. Even if they feel better, it is recommended to complete the course as infections can flare up once again.
For some cases of infections like broil or spots, the doctor may pierce the same to drain it of pus or liquid.
Patients suffering from a damaged or ruptured eardrum may be advised to undergo surgery to protect the ear from external elements and future infections.
How to Prevent Ear Infections
You should always refrain from inserting soiled or dirty fingers inside your ear. Also, try to prevent water, soap or shampoo from entering the ear canal. While swimming, make sure to use earplugs or cover your ears with a swimming cap.
Proper care should be taken with an ear infection as it can later lead to severe medical complications. Some of them include the following –
- Impaired or loss in hearing
- Damaged or Ruptured Eardrum
- Spread of infection to the brain, spinal cord or the skull.
Always wash your hands and refrain from using cotton earbuds for a long period of time.
Blog Written By:
Consultant – ENT