An ear infection is the most common cause of earaches. Although this condition is a frequent cause of infant distress and is often associated with children, it can also affect adults.
The infection in the middle ear (the space behind the eardrum where tiny bones pick up vibrations and pass them along to the inner ear) very often accompanies a common cold, the flu, or other types of respiratory infections. This is because the middle ear is connected to the upper respiratory tract by a tiny channel known as the Eustachian tube. Germs that are growing in the nose or sinus cavities can climb up the Eustachian tube and enter the middle ear to start growing.
The middle ear is a small space behind the ear drum that is supposed to be well ventilated by air that normally passes up from behind the nose, through the Eustachian tube, keeping the middle ear clean and dry. When there is not enough fresh air ventilating the middle ear, such as when the Eustachian tube is clogged or blocked, the area becomes damp, stagnant, and warm, a perfect breeding ground for germs.
In children and infants, the Eustachian tube is often too soft or immature and has a harder time staying open. Allergies, post nasal drainage, sinus infections, common cold viruses and adenoid problems can all interfere with the Eustachian tube’s ability to let air pass into the middle ear.
In recent years, scientists have identified the characteristics of people most likely to suffer recurrent middle ear infections:
- Individuals with a family history of ear infections
- Babies who are bottle-fed (breastfed babies get fewer ear infections)
- Children who attend day care centers
- People living in households with tobacco smokers
- People with abnormalities of the palate, such as a cleft palate
- People with poor immune systems or chronic respiratory diseases, such as cystic fibrosis and asthma
Symptoms of an ear infection may include hearing changes, dizziness, pain, tenderness to the touch, hearing changes, nausea, vomiting, dizziness, fever, headache, swelling of the ear.
Discharge coming from the ear is a sign of a more serious issue and should be diagnosed by a doctor immediately. The ear is a complicated part of the body, made up of several different chambers. Ear infections can strike in any one of these chambers and cause various symptoms.
Ear infections can go away on their own in many cases, so a minor earache may not be a worry. A doctor should typically be seen if symptoms have not improved within 3 days. If new symptoms occur, such as a fever or loss of balance, a doctor should be seen immediately. Any sign of discharge coming from the ear would also require a visit to the doctor.
Doctors need to know a person’s medical history to make a proper diagnosis. They will ask about any symptoms that have occurred, as well as any medications that a person takes. The doctor may use an instrument called an otoscope to look at the eardrum and ear canal for signs of infection. This procedure may be accompanied by a small puff of air. Doctors will check the way that the eardrum reacts to having air pushed against it, which can help diagnose a middle ear infection.
Depending on the cause, some infections will clear up without treatment. Symptoms may be managed during this time, and a doctor might recommend other treatments to speed up the healing process.
Antibiotics and other prescriptions, According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), using antibiotics by mouth to treat ear infections may not be recommended in certain cases of middle and outer ear infections.
Treatment depends on the cause and severity of the infection, along with other health problems a person may have. Antibiotics are not effective against ear infections caused by viruses.
Prescription eardrops may be the way a doctor will treat some ear infections. Prescription eardrops can also sometimes be used to treat pain symptoms.
Non-prescription eardrops may be helpful in treating mild cases of swimmer’s ear. Eardrops can be made at home or purchased over the counter.
According to ear specialists, a simple at-home blend can be made by making a mixture of half rubbing alcohol and half white vinegar. Using a few drops into the ears can help dry out the ear canal and support the healing process.
These drops should also not be used in people who have ear tubes (T-tubes), permanent injuries to their eardrum, or certain ear surgeries.
If the infection is not getting better or other symptoms develop, a person should stop using the drops and see their doctor. Eardrops should not be used in an ear that has any discharge coming from it unless prescribed by a doctor. Ear discharge, drainage, or blood is a sign of a bigger complication, such as a ruptured eardrum, which needs immediate medical attention.