An ear infection is an infection of the ear caused by a virus or bacterium. Ear infections, medically known as otitis media, can cause discomfort, inflammation, and an accumulation of fluid. The Inflammation and fluid accumulation could then lead to increased pressure on the eardrum, making these infections uncomfortable.
Doctors would often perform a physical examination or health screening to help determine the severity of the infection.
What causes ear infections?
An ear infection usually develops with flu, cold or allergic response, which causes mucus to build up in the sinuses. The eustachian tube is a tube that connects the sinuses to the ears and throat and it helps the mucus to escape when the nasal cavity is congested from a cold that is beginning to dissipate.
Eustachian tubes are tiny tubes that connect the back of the throat to each ear. An ear infection arises when the eustachian tubes become clogged or enlarged due to a build-up of mucus. This may also cause an inflammation of the throat and nasal passages.
While the most common causes of eustachian tube blockages are flu, colds, and allergies, they may also be induced by adenoids that are swollen or infected, as well as changes in air pressure.
What are the symptoms?
Adults who have an ear infection may experience the following symptoms:
- Pain in the ears (may be dull, sharp, sudden or continuous)
- Leakage from the ear canal
- Sensations of the ear feeling compact
- Muffled hearing
Children will often display symptoms such as:
- Leakage from the ear canal
- Poor sleep or difficulty sleeping
- Tugging on the ear
- Reduced appetite
What are the risk factors for an ear infection?
Recent studies have led to the identification of features that leave people more prone to suffering recurrent middle ear infections:
- Age. Because of the size and structure of their eustachian tubes, as well as the fact that their immune systems are still developing, children aged 6 months to 2 years are more vulnerable to ear infections.
- Poor air quality. Exposure to tobacco smoke as well as excessive amounts of pollution in the air increases the likelihood of developing an ear infection.
- Allergies. Seasonal hay fever, allergies to particular allergens, and persistent allergies can leave children and adults more susceptible to ear infections. Allergies result in increased secretions, and the inflammatory components produced would damage the ear’s lining.
- Having a history of ear infections in the family. Studies have shown that individuals with a family history of ear infections make them more susceptible to developing the infection themselves.
- Other underlying medical conditions. People with weakened immune systems or chronic respiratory disorders like cystic fibrosis and asthma are also more at risk of developing an ear infection.
What happens if an ear infection is left untreated?
While most ear infections heal away on their own, certain infections may become more severe if left untreated. If your ear infection does not improve or if the symptoms persist, meet a doctor as soon as you can.
Severe ear infections could result in hearing loss and eardrum rupture if they are not treated or may lead to the development of meningitis or neurological problems in more extreme scenarios.
However, there is no need to be concerned if you do get an ear infection. Ear infections typically heal quickly with no serious repercussions with immediate medical assistance.
How are ear infections treated?
In most cases, ear infections are mild and the immune system is capable of combating pathogenic germs without the need for medications.
However, if the infection has worsened or the pain is excruciating, your doctor may prescribe antibiotics like amoxicillin. Once prescribed antibiotics, you must finish the entire dose of antibiotics, even if the symptoms are alleviated.
Your doctor may also suggest surgery in rare cases where the antibiotics are ineffective. If you have been suffering several ear infections within a short period, your doctor may suggest draining the fluid out of the infected ear by inserting a tube.