An ear infection can be a common occurrence, particularly in children. It can cause pain, a fever, and hearing loss, and although ear infections often go away on their own, treatment may be required to reduce painful symptoms or prevent reoccurring infections.
What Causes An Ear Infection?
Small tubes called eustachian tubes connect your ears to the back of your throat. An ear infection usually occurs in the middle ear (the section located just behind your ear drum) and happens when one of the eustachian tubes becomes inflamed or blocked, often as the result of a virus. When the tube becomes inflamed, it can cause fluid and germs to get trapped inside the ear and cause an infection.
Ear infections happen mostly to young children because they are more prone to viruses, and their eustachian tubes are shorter, narrower, and can get blocked more easily. Other factors that can cause an ear infection include:
- Changes in climate
- Changes in altitude/air pressure
- Exposure to cigarette smoke
- Recent infection or illness, such as a sinus infection, adenoiditis, or a cold
- Using a pacifier
Symptoms Of An Ear Infection
The main symptom of an ear infection is an earache that varies from mild discomfort to very painful. Other symptoms may include:
- A continuous feeling of pressure inside the ear
- A fever
- Hearing loss
- Fluid leaking from the ear
- Lack of energy
- Itching, irritation, or scaly skin inside and around the ear
Young infants may also become fussy, irritable, or restless, rub or pull at their ear, lose their appetite, or have trouble balancing.
Sometimes, an ear infection can cause the eardrum to burst, which causes pus-like fluid to leak out of the ear. This isn’t serious and can often make the pain go away. The eardrum usually heals without any intervention.
Diagnosis and Treatment
To diagnose an ear infection, your doctor will assess all the symptoms and examine the ear drum with an instrument called an otoscope. An otoscope has a small light to let the doctor see if the eardrum is red or inflamed and whether there is fluid behind it. Some otoscopes also blow a small amount of air into the ear, which can help to check for blockages.
Minor ear infections usually go away on their own within a few days, but some symptoms may last up to a week. Because they are often caused by a virus, it means antibiotics will not help the infection.
If symptoms are particularly painful, your doctor may recommend an over-the-counter pain reliever, such as acetaminophen (Tylenol) or ibuprofen (Advil), which can also help to reduce a fever. Over-the-counter or prescription eardrops can also help relieve pain and reduce swelling in the ear. Decongestants, such as pseudoephedrine, can sometimes help symptoms but must not be given to children. If you use medication, always follow the advice of your doctor and the instructions label on the medication.
Antibiotics will be prescribed if your doctor suspects bacteria has caused the infection, if the child is under 6 months of age, or if the child is at high-risk for complications.
In severe cases, if fluid remains in the ear and hearing problems continue, or if there are repeated episodes of ear infections, a minor surgical procedure called a myringotomy may be recommended. The procedure involves creating a small incision in the eardrum to relieve pressure and drain any trapped fluids. A myringotomy can help restore hearing loss caused by fluid build-up, prevent delayed speech development (caused by hearing loss) in children, and can help to prevent chronic ear infections.
Ear infections cannot always be prevented, but there are ways to reduce the risk, such as:
- Avoid secondhand smoke (ear infections are more common in children who are around cigarette smoke)
- Wash hands frequently
- Keep childhood immunizations up to date
- Breastfeed your baby
- Avoid pacifiers and make sure your child doesn’t go to sleep while sucking on a bottle.
- Avoid heavily crowded areas
An ear infection can be a common occurrence, particularly in children. It can cause pain, a fever, and hearing loss,Ear, Nose, And Throat Care in Georgetown, TX
At Georgetown ENT, our otolaryngologist can help with any condition that may be affecting the ear, nose, or throat, including ear infections. To schedule a consultation or to find out more about the services we provide, please call us at (512) 869-0604.