What Causes Ear Infections And What Are The Symptoms, Treatment?

Our ear is made up of the outer ear, eardrum, and tympanic membrane, which divides the middle ear from the external ear.

A canal that connects our middle ear to the back of the throat is called the Eustachian tube. This equalizes the pressure in the middle ear, which is important for good sound transmission.

Structure And Functions Of The Ear:

Our Eustachian tubes are lined with mucus, just as our noses and throats are.

A sound is transmitted from the outer ear to the middle ear. Inner ear organs control hearing and balance. In the outer ear, you can find hair and glands that produce wax.

What Causes Ear Infections And What Are The Symptoms, Treatment

Middle ears are composed of three bone-like structures that transfer vibrations from the eardrum to the inner ear.

Incidents of Ear Infections and Vulnerable Group:

Infants from 6 months to 2 years of age, and young children, are more susceptible to ear infections. A middle ear infection is caused by bacteria or viruses living in the air spaces that are present in the middle ear. A space of this type is an ideal place for an infection to spread.  Infections can be acute or chronic. An acute ear infection is painful but lasts only for a short time. Chronic ear infections cause hearing problems and even permanent damage to the ear over time. Their presence is less visible, however.

Causes:

When we have an infection, one of our Eustachian tubes can swell or become blocked, resulting in fluid accumulation in the middle ear. Since children have smaller and narrower Eustachian tubes, they are more vulnerable. When bottle-fed children are not fed in an upright position, they are at greater risk of developing an infection. Several factors contribute to ear infections, including:

  • Allergies – Younger children and people with suppressed immunity are susceptible to developing allergies from changing weather conditions.
  • Colds – Extreme cold temperatures (as during winters and in cold places) can give rise to incidents of ear infections.
  • Sinus infections – Sinuses are empty air pockets; when they get filled with pus or fluid, it could lead to ear infections.
  • Smoking (in adults) – Active and passive smoking can both lead to ear infections due to inhalation of poor quality air.
  • Swollen adenoids – Adenoids are tissues near our tonsils that trap harmful bacteria and viruses. They are located very close to the opening of the Eustachian tubes. Hence, when they get swollen or irritated for any reason, ear infections occur. Adenoids also play a role in body immunity, so when they get affected or blocked, immunity falls, and a compromised system leads to various infections.
  • Changes in air pressure may occur when traveling on an airplane or trip to high-altitude mountains. Sudden changes in air pressure could affect the middle ear.
  • Climate changes – Extreme and sudden changes in climatic conditions could also result in ear infections
  • People recovering from a recent respiratory illness or ear infection (as in the case of chronic and multiple infections) are more likely to develop a relapse 

Symptoms:

One should be vigilant of the signs of ear infections as they spread rapidly. A good ENT specialist should be consulted without delay when one exhibits the following classic symptoms:

  • Experiencing ear pain especially when one is lying down
  • Bottle-fed infants or children crying more than usual especially after a recent bout of cold or upper respiratory illness
  • When hearing is impaired and one stops responding to sounds
  • Experiencing headache
  • Loss of body balance
  • Loss of appetite
  • Sleeplessness due to unbearable pain in the ear/s
  • Fluid or pus leakage from either of the ears or both
  • High-grade fever

Tests:

Treatment begins with ear examination for inflammation, perforation of the eardrum, or presence of fluid by a health care provider. In case of advanced infections, the doctor will take a sample of the fluid to test the presence of antibiotic-resistant bacteria. A CT scan of the head may be advised to determine the spread of the infection beyond the middle ear. A hearing test may also be conducted to assess hearing impairment (if any).

Treatment:

Mild and acute ear infections are well-nigh-treated with antibiotics. It may not be necessary to seek medical attention in some cases. Here are some common home management techniques:

  • Warm cloth application to the affected ear/s.
  • Taking prescribed over-the-counter pain medication like Ibuprofen, ear drops, and decongestants like pseudoephedrine.

However, if there’s no marked improvement in pain, swelling, or discomfort, one must take medical assistance for correct diagnosis and line of treatment. In extreme cases with enlarged adenoids and multiple infections, surgery could be an option to remove the adenoids, restore hearing, relieve inner ear pressure, and reduce the tendency for repeated infections.

Few simple precautions like infant vaccinations, breastfeeding, and adhering to certain hygiene practices at home would prevent seasonal infections and respiratory illness. For smokers who have chronic ear infections, it’s best to stop smoking.

Leave a Comment