Ear Infections

What are Ear Infections?

An “ear infection” is actually a catch-all term for a couple of different issues. The most common type of ear infection is otitis media, or inflammation of the middle ear, which is inside the ear drum. “Swimmer’s Ear,” or otitis externa, occurs in the ear canal and outer ear. Patients can have both of these infections at the same time, since both are caused by bacteria or viruses. Ear infections are quite common and most often occur with respiratory infections, colds, or allergic reactions.

Children are more prone to ear infections because their immune systems are still developing. Also, children can get blockages in their eustachian tubes more easily since their tubes are more horizontal rather than angled like adults.

What are the Symptoms of Ear Infections?

Ear infections can be quite painful since the inflammation can cause fluid and pressure to build up in the middle ear. Babies with ear infections may become extremely fussy or have difficulty nursing because of the pain.

Other symptoms include temporary hearing loss, feeling of fullness in the ear, a fever, a cold, or diarrhea.

Ear Infection Causes

An ear infection is a common illness that happens when one of a person’s Eustachian tubes is blocked or becomes swollen, allowing fluids to accumulate inside the middle ear. The swelling from an allergy or upper respiratory infection will often block the Eustachian tubes that connect a person’s middle ears to their throat. As a result, air is unable to reach inside the middle ear. Consequently, a vacuum manifests and suction develops that pulls fluids and germs out from the throat and nose and into the middle ear.

Some common causes of blockages in Eustachian tube include:

  • Sinus infections
  • Colds
  • Allergies
  • Excess mucus
  • Smoking
  • Infected or swollen adenoids (where tissue nearby your tonsils catches viruses and bacteria)
  • Air pressure shifts

Ear infections happen more often in young children, as their Eustachian tubes are short and narrow. Bottle-fed infants also have more frequent incidences of infections of the ear than breastfed infants.

Some additional factors, which increase the chances of developing an ear infection include:

  • Climate changes
  • Pacifier use
  • Recent illness

How are Ear Infections Treated?

Ear infections are often treated with antibiotics and doctor supervision. To ease the pain, a warm compress can be placed on the affected ear and over-the-counter analgesics can be taken if okayed by a doctor. Routine physicals and flu shots can help prevent further infections.

If the eardrum has ruptured from the pressure, then a person will need to visit a doctor to make sure that the eardrum is draining the pus properly. If a child has chronic ear infections””which can last several weeks or months””then steroids may be prescribed. Some children with chronic ear infections can also have ventilation tubes inserted in their eardrums until their eustachian tubes can properly drain on their own.

Lastly, if a child keeps getting accompanying ear infections from sore throats, he or she may need to get their adenoids removed by an ENT doctor.

Ear Infection Prevention

Preventions of ear infections differ whether its in adults or children.

Children

There are a number of ways to reduce the frequency of infections in children including:

  • Breastfeeding, as infants who nurse for over twelve months or often have fewer ear infections. Though if one cannot breastfeed , children must be bottle fed in an upright position.
  • Avoiding cigarette smoke and enjoying free of pollution air reduces the frequency of ear infections
  • Make sure to keep immunization schedules current

Adults

As we grow developing ear infections becomes less likely because an adult’s Eustachian tubes are much bigger while the shape of adult Eustachian tubes makes them less likely to become clogged. However, if a person starts to notice significant ear pain and suspicious fluids being expelled from your ear, it is advisable to either use over the counter medicine or seek the advice of a doctor.

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Last Reviewed:
September 13, 2016
Last Updated:
December 18, 2017