Ear infections occur when the middle ear is affected by a viral or bacterial infection. These infections can be chronic or acute. Acute ear infections, though short in duration, are painful. Both acute and chronic ones can lead to permanent damage to the inner and middle ear or the eardrum. They are either persistent or recurrent.
Swelling or blockage in eustachian tubes, causing fluid buildup in the middle ear, leads to glued ears and ear infections. Following are the causes of eustachian tube blockage:
- Sinus infections – It refers to when the cavities around the nasal passages become inflamed.
- Smoking – It weakens the immune system and damages the tissues in the nose and throat, increasing one’s vulnerability to ear infections.
- Air pressure changes
- Excess mucus – Excess fluid in the ear can clog up the Eustachian tube
- Infected or swollen adenoids – Adenoids are tissues situated near your tonsils that trap harmful bacteria and viruses. Surgical removal of the adenoids along with the ear glue and insertion of grommets tubes is necessary if the ear infection involves a case of enlarged adenoids.
Ear infections are primarily seen in children. However, these are often minor and come to pass quickly. On the other hand, adult ear infections are more severe and may signify serious health problems.
Following are a few common symptoms of ear infections:
- Persisting pressure inside the ear
- Hearing loss
- Blocked ears
- Discomfort or mild pain inside the ear
- Irritability in young infants
- Presence of pus-like drainage from the ear
Mild ear infections often clear up and heal without any intervention. Some of the methods that can aid in relieving the symptoms of mild ear infections are:
- Steam inhalation
- Taking pain medication
If the symptoms remain or get worse, visiting a doctor is necessary. In such cases, the ENT doctor might prescribe a course of antibiotics. Sticking to the course and completing it is essential to ensure the effectiveness of the treatment. In some cases, tubes are placed in the ear to allow the fluid blocking the Eustachian tube to drain out. If usual treatment methods fail to eliminate the condition, surgical procedures are a viable treatment.
If left untreated, chronic ear infections may cause complications in the long term, such as:
- Meningitis, referring to the inflammation of the membranes covering the brain and spinal cord, causing severe headaches and fever
- Spread of infection intracranially, causing abscesses
- Abscess of ears or neck area
- Mastoiditis, referring to an infection of the mastoid process, a hard bone behind the ear.
- Hearing loss
- Rupture of the eardrum
- Speech or language delay in kids
Ear infections can be prevented to an extent by adopting safe and straightforward practices. Maintaining personal hygiene, avoiding crowded areas, avoiding first-hand and second-hand smoke, keeping your immunizations up-to-date, breastfeeding infants, discontinuing the usage of pacifiers, etc., are a few things you can do to reduce the risk of infections. Early treatment for ear infections is crucial to avoid further complications.