Ear infections, while not as common in adults as in children, can lead to various problems when left without proper medical care. Know the signs and symptoms of the various common ear infections.
The Three Parts of the Ear
Our ears, divided into three parts, give us our sense of hearing.
- The outer ear consists of the pinna and the ear canal. The pinna is what we can see and touch, and the ear canal is where we commonly find the wax that sometimes can get plugged up with an abundance of wax.
- The middle ear includes the eardrum and the eustachian tube. While the eardrum consists of the tiny bones for hearing, the eustachian tube equalizes the pressure in our middle ear.
- The inner ear harbors three balance canals and the cochlea for hearing.
Common Infections of the Ear
No matter what age, an earache can be a terrible experience, especially one with severe and burning pain that does not go away. Anything out of the norm, it’s always good to get proper medical attention.
Swimmer’s ear is a common infection that can plague frequent swimmers. The cause is not adequately drying the outer ears, resulting in a fungus or even a bacterial infection. The use of Q-tips or trying to wash the ear out with water can make the problem even worse.
Experiencing pain when lightly tugging on the outer ear’s pinna is one way to know that swimmer’s ear is a possibility.
The best treatment is for the medical practitioner to properly clean out the fungus debris, and prescribe antibiotic ear drops. It can take up to a couple of weeks to resolve the infection. Sometimes, overuse of antibiotic drops can result in a fungal infection that may require an additional course of treatment.
Prevention is the best way to avoid swimmer’s ear infection. Try to keep your ears dry and also keep wax from accumulating in the ear. EarKare is a specifically-developed ear wash with alcohol and aloe. It deters wax from forming and keeps the ear canal dry. By using this solution a couple of times each week, your ears will be fresh and dry.
Very similar to swimmer’s ear, external otitis is the result of using Q-tips, hearing aids, or ear molds which can all irritate the ear canal. And, it can be caused by using water to clean the ears, and the ears remaining wet. You have to be extra careful using Q-tips because you can push the ear wax down into the ear that results in hearing loss or damage to the ear.
Acute Middle Ear Infections
An acute middle ear infection is typically the result of a sinus infection or an upper respiratory infection. This type of ear infection starts in the nose or sinus and travels up the eustachian tube into the middle ear. The middle ear fills up with pus, with extreme pain accompanying it.
Your physician can confirm this type of infection by looking into the ear for a red or bulging eardrum. Pus is also visible behind the eardrum.
For treatments is a course of oral antibiotics prescribed for 10 to 14 days, and that usually takes care of the problem.
Acute middle ear infections can be more prominent in people who suffer from allergies causing a runny nose, itchy throat, and itchy eyes. It is a recommendation that allergy sufferers undergo testing for allergies with proper treatment that can help alleviate acute middle ear infections. Allergy treatment advancements now offer desensitization using drops under the tongue, replacing getting weekly injections.
Chronic Middle Ear Infections
Also known as chronic otitis media, this is a perforation in the eardrum caused by frequent ear infections. Recurring drainage is a sign of a perforated eardrum.
A more severe condition that can arise is known as cholesteatoma, which is a cyst that forms in the ear canal. If allowed to grow, it can destroy the tiny bones of hearing and the eardrum. Along with affecting other structures within the ear, such as the balance canals, the cholesteatoma can also affect facial nerves and more.
Patients usually present with a perforation of the eardrum and drainage. A proper diagnosis is through an examination of the ear and mastoid x-rays.
Immediate treatment consists of cleaning out the ear canal via suction, with a course of antibiotic ear drops. Sometimes, oral antibiotics are part of the treatment regime to quiet the infection down.
Surgical treatment is also necessary for a ruptured eardrum or cholesteatoma removal. If there has been destruction to the eardrum or the tiny bones for hearing, we can use tissue to repair a hole in the eardrum and use a prosthesis to replace the tiny bone for hearing.
Inner Ear Infections
Inner ear infections typically begin with a virus, and it can affect the balance and the hearing organ. Patients usually experience an episode of vertigo or dizziness that can last from hours to days. If the infection reaches the cochlea, a patient can lose their hearing that can result in a nerve or sensorineural hearing loss.
These conditions should be treated as an emergency, especially when a patient is experiencing hearing loss.