An ear infection (sometimes called acute otitis media) is an infection of the middle ear, the air-filled space behind the that contains the tiny vibrating bones. Children are more likely than adults to get infections.
Because infections often clear up on their own, treatment may begin with managing pain and monitoring the problem. Sometimes, antibiotics are used to clear the infection. Some people are prone to having multiple infections. This can cause hearing problems and other serious complications.
The onset of signs and symptoms of infection is usually rapid.
- mild deafness or the sensation that sound is muffled
- ear discharge
Signs and symptoms common in children include:
- pain, especially when lying down
- Tugging or pulling
- Trouble sleeping
- Crying more than usual
- Trouble hearing or responding to sounds
- Loss of balance
- Fever of 100 F (38 C) or higher
- Drainage of fluid
- Loss of appetite
Common signs and symptoms in adults include:
- Drainage of fluid
- Trouble hearing
When to see a doctor
Signs and symptoms of an infection can indicate several conditions. It’s important to get an accurate diagnosis and prompt treatment. Call your child’s doctor if:
- Symptoms last for more than a day
- Symptoms are present in a child less than 6 months of age
- pain is severe
- Your infant or toddler is sleepless or irritable after a cold or other upper respiratory infection
- You observe a discharge of fluid, pus or bloody fluid
An infection is caused by a bacterium or virus in the middle. This infection often results from another illness — cold, flu or allergy — that causes congestion and swelling of the nasal passages, throat and eustachian tubes.
Role of eustachian tubes
The eustachian tubes are a pair of narrow tubes that run from each middle to high in the back of the throat, behind the nasal passages. The throat end of the tubes open and close to:
- Regulate air pressure in the middle
- Refresh air
- Drain normal secretions from the middle
Swollen eustachian tubes can become blocked, causing fluids to build up in the middle. This fluid can become infected and cause the symptoms of infection.
In children, the eustachian tubes are narrower and more horizontal, which makes them more difficult to drain and more likely to get clogged.
Role of adenoids
Adenoids are two small pads of tissues high in the back of the nose believed to play a role in immune system activity.
Because adenoids are near the opening of the eustachian tubes, swelling of the adenoids may block the tubes. This can lead to middle infection. Swelling and irritation of adenoids is more likely to play a role in infections in children because children have relatively larger adenoids compared to adults.
Conditions of the middle that may be related to infection or result in similar middle problems include:
Otitis media with effusion, or swelling and fluid buildup (effusion) in the middle without bacterial or viral infection. This may occur because the fluid buildup persists after infection has gotten better. It may also occur because of some dysfunction or noninfectious blockage of the eustachian tubes.
Chronic otitis media with effusion, occurs when fluid remains in the middle and continues to return without bacterial or viral infection. This makes children susceptible to new infections and may affect hearing.
Chronic suppurative otitis media, infection that doesn’t go away with the usual treatments. This can lead to a hole in the eardrum.
Risk factors for infections include:
Age. Children between the ages of 6 months and 2 years are more susceptible to infections because of the size and shape of their eustachian tubes and because their immune systems are still developing.
Group child care. Children cared for in group settings are more likely to get colds and infections than are children who stay home. The children in group settings are exposed to more infections, such as the common cold.
Infant feeding. Babies who drink from a bottle, especially while lying down, tend to have more infections than do babies who are breast-fed.
Seasonal factors. infections are most common during the fall and winter. People with seasonal allergies may have a greater risk of infections when pollen counts are high.
Poor air quality. Exposure to tobacco smoke or high levels of air pollution can increase the risk of infections.
Alaska Native heritage. infections are more common among Alaska Natives.
Cleft palate. Differences in the bone structure and muscles in children who have cleft palates may make it more difficult for the eustachian tube to drain.
Most infections don’t cause long-term complications. infections that happen again and again can lead to serious complications:
Impaired hearing. Mild hearing loss that comes and goes is fairly common with an infection, but it usually gets better after the infection clears. infections that happen again and again, or fluid in the middle, may lead to more-significant hearing loss. If there is some permanent damage to the or other middle structures, permanent hearing loss may occur.
Speech or developmental delays. If hearing is temporarily or permanently impaired in infants and toddlers, they may experience delays in speech, social and developmental skills.
Spread of infection. Untreated infections or infections that don’t respond well to treatment can spread to nearby tissues. Infection of the mastoid, the bony protrusion behind the , is called mastoiditis. This infection can result in damage to the bone and the formation of pus-filled cysts. Rarely, serious middle infections spread to other tissues in the skull, including the brain or the membranes surrounding the brain (meningitis).
Tearing of the. Most tears heal within 72 hours. In some cases, surgical repair is needed.
The following tips may reduce the risk of developing infections:
Prevent common colds and other illnesses. Teach your children to wash their hands frequently and thoroughly and to not share eating and drinking utensils. Teach your children to cough or sneeze into their elbow. If possible, limit the time your child spends in group child care. A child care setting with fewer children may help. Try to keep your child home from child care or school when ill.
Avoid secondhand smoke. Make sure that no one smokes in your home. Away from home, stay in smoke-free environments.
Breast-feed your baby. If possible, breast-feed your baby for at least six months. Breast milk contains antibodies that may offer protection from infections.
If you bottle-feed, hold your baby in an upright position. Avoid propping a bottle in your baby’s mouth while he or she is lying down. Don’t put bottles in the crib with your baby.
Talk to your doctor about vaccinations. Ask your doctor about what vaccinations are appropriate for your child. Seasonal flu shots, pneumococcal and other bacterial vaccines may help prevent infections.
What Are Some Common Diseases ?
While most people know about hearing loss, many other conditions can affect the too. Some are just annoying, but others can cause discomfort. What’s more, these diseases can have a knock-on effect on your hearing, exacerbating any existing hearing loss that you may have.
Knowing about the conditions that could affect your is essential. Here’s a rundown of the most common diseases.
Swimmer’s, also called otitis externa, is an infection that people develop between the eardrum and the outer (the bit that you can see on the side of the head).
The name arose from the fact that swimmers would often develop infections while doing lengths in untreated pools. Dirty water would enter the canal and provide opportunistic bacteria with a chance to multiply. Eventually, their numbers would get out of control, and the body would send immune cells to the site, causing painful inflammation and swelling.
Swimmer’s, however, can happen to anyone, particularly following overzealous cleaning.
Infections Of The Middle
Swimmer’s primarily affects the outer. The majority of infections, however, take root in the middle – the bit between the eardrum and the cochlear.
Many microbes cause infections, including bacteria and viruses. Typically, these invaders start in another part of the body. For instance, if you have a cold or flu, then you are much more likely to develop an infection. Viruses and bacteria can migrate up the tubes that connect the respiratory system to the, leading to symptoms. They then become established in the middle ear, provoking inflammation.
Our naturally produce wax from small glands that line the canal. The purpose of this sticky, gooey substance is to trap incoming dust and microbes and prevent them from penetrating.
When it functions correctly, it collects these particles and shifts them to the opening of the where they dry and then flake off. Sometimes, though, the body produces too much earwax. It then becomes stuck in front of the eardrum and hardens, making it tough to remove.
Patients with blocked ears experience muted and muffled sounds. They can also develop secondary infections around the blockage since the wax is no longer able to remove invading bacteria from the canal.
Meniere’s disease is a condition that results from the excess fluid buildup in the inner . When machinery inside the becomes saturated, they are no longer able to carry out their regular function. In turn, this leads to problems with hearing and balance, as well as a sensation of pressure inside.
There is no cure for Meniere’s disease, but there are lifestyle modifications that reduce the severity of symptoms. ENT doctors will often ask their patients to take medication, engage in stress reduction exercises, increase their level of physical activity, and try natural therapies to reduce symptoms. Surgery is an option of last resort for the most severe cases.
Otosclerosis is a condition of abnormal bone growth.
The is a complex system that relies on a series of mechanisms to convert incoming sound waves into nerve impulses. Part of this mechanism relies on a tiny bone, called the stapes bone. Usually, this bone is free to move in its pouch and transmit information further along the chain. But in people with otosclerosis, it can grow so large that it no longer moves. And when that happens, it can no longer pass on incoming sound signals to the inner ear.
Treatment for otosclerosis usually follows one of two paths. Either the patient is recommended to wear hearing aids, or they go for surgery to reduce the size of the bone.
The surgical option is called a stapedectomy, and ENT specialists carry it out.
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