An ear infection (also called acute otitis media) affects the middle part of the ear and is more likely to occur in children than adults. When an ear is infected, it causes the area to become inflamed, resulting in pain in the ear.
Causes of an ear infection
The middle ear is located directly behind the eardrum. Swelling from a respiratory infection or an allergy can cause the Eustachian tubes, which connect the middle ears to the throat, to become blocked. This prevents air from reaching the middle ear and creates a vacuum like effect that pulls fluid and germs from the nose and throat. When the tubes are inflamed, the fluid can’t be drained – this causes infection.
An infection can be either bacterial or viral. The most common types of bacteria that can cause ear infections are Streptococcus pneumoniae (also called pneumococcus), Haemophilus influenzae, and Moraxella catarrhalis. The most common types of viruses found are respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) and flu (influenza) virus.
In many cases, middle ear infections go away on their own, without any medication. If required, a simple over-the-counter pain reliever can help to relieve pain. However if pain persists and there are no signs of improvement after two or three days you should see your doctor. If there is a discharge of pus or fluid coming from the ear, you should consult your doctor immediately.
Some of the most common signs and symptoms associated with acute otitis media are:
- Pain in the ear
- Difficulty or restlessness sleeping
- Tugging or pulling at an ear
- Crying more than usual
- High temperature
- Problems hearing or responding to sounds
- Loss of balance
- Decreased appetite
- Pain in the ear
- Discharge of fluid from the ear
- Diminished hearing
- It’s important to get prompt treatment and an accurate diagnosis as soon as possible, so make sure you consult your doctor right away if you or your child displays any of these symptoms.You should seek medical treatment immediately if you experience a sudden loss of hearing or severe pain in one or both ears.Treating an ear infectionMiddle ear infections can be treated in a number of ways, and the right course of action will depend on age (child or adult), health, and medical history. When treating children, doctors will also consider how severe the infection is, tolerance to antibiotics and the preference of parents.Sometimes, it’s possible to treat just the pain associated with an ear infection with ibuprofen (or another pain reliever). But if symptoms last more than three days, it’s important to see your doctor who may decide that antibiotics should be prescribed.It’s rare for ear infections to cause health complications, but they can happen (and could be serious if they occur). Complications could include permanent hearing loss, ruptured eardrums, and the infection spreading to the bones behind the ear, the inner ear or around the brain and spinal cord.While each case can vary, most ear infections resolve themselves without treatment. If you have mild symptoms, you can take a “wait and see” approach by holding off on visiting your doctor in case the infection improves on its own. However, if symptoms persist and pain continues, it’s important to see your doctor right away for proper diagnosis and treatment.