Ear infections occur when a bacterial or viral infection attacks the middle ear. The middle ear is the area of your ear just behind the eardrum. Ear infections may become painful as the inflammation and fluid builds up in the middle ear.
There are 2 types of ear infections - chronic & acute.
Acute ear infections are painful but tend to go away by themselves.
Chronic ear infections either do not clear up, or they reappear several times. Chronic ear infections may damage the middle and inner ear permanently.
When one of your Eustachian tubes - small tubes that run from each ear directly to the back of the throat, become swollen or blocked, causing fluid to build up in your middle ear, your middle ear gets infected.
Your Eustachian tubes may be blocked because:
- Sinus infections
- Excess mucus
- Infected or swollen adenoids (tissue near your tonsils that trap harmful bacteria and viruses)
- Changes in air pressure
- Young children- As they have short and narrow Eustachian tubes
- Bottle-fed babies
- Altitude changes
- Climate changes
- Exposure to cigarette smoke
- Pacifier use
- Recent illness or ear infection
- Mild pain or discomfort inside the ear
- Feeling of pressure inside the ear that persists
- Fussiness in young infants
- Pus-like ear drainage
- Hearing loss
Your doctor will examine your ear with an otoscope, which has a light and magnifying lens.
- Sample of the fluid inside your ear may be tested to find out whether there are any antibiotic-resistant bacteria
- You may also have to take a computed tomography (CT) scan of your head to check if the infection has spread beyond the middle ear.
Most mild ear infections clear up without any medication. The following methods relieve the symptoms of an ear infection:
- Apply a warm cloth to the affected ear
- Take over-the-counter pain medication such as ibuprofen or acetaminophen
- Use over-the-counter or prescription ear drops to relieve pain
- Take over-the-counter decongestants such as pseudoephedrine
Children must be examined by their healthcare providers even if the symptoms seem mild. An adult must seek their doctor's advice if symptoms persist or worsen.
- Wash hands often
- Avoid overly crowded areas
- Avoid pacifiers with infants and small children
- Opt to breastfeed babies
- Avoid second-hand smoke
- Keep immunisations up-to-date