Ear infections (acute otitis media) occur in a variety of ways, and can happen internally, in the middle ear, or the outer ear. Because of the wide range of bacteria and viruses that can afflict different segments of the ear, it is important to pay special attention to the severity of your symptoms to help our doctor's determine the correct course of treatment. The types of infections are as follows:
- Internal ear infection (otitis interna): This usually occurs when the inner ear is inflamed due to a virus, but may also be caused by middle ear bacteria spreading to the inner ear. Symptoms include sudden onset of severe vertigo, nausea, and vomiting, and are sometimes so severe that emergency room care and medication are required to control the vertigo.
- Middle ear infection (otitis media): Middle ear infections are very common in childhood but can occur at any age, and are usually accompanied by an upper respiratory tract infection with coughing and nasal discharge. These infections are most commonly caused by a blockage of the Eustachian tube, which creates swelling in the mucous membranes. Antibiotic treatment is the best course of action in these cases.
- Outer ear infection (otitis externa): When the outer ear and ear canal are inflamed, this “earache” is commonly referred to as “swimmer’s ear.” The skin in the ear canal becomes inflamed, swells, and is tender to the touch. Outer ear infections can be caused by polluted water entering the ear canal, particularly when the skin has slight tears that allow for bacteria and fungus to grow. This is the only type of ear infection that is visible with the naked eye.
Treatment of Earaches and Ear Infections
Our doctor's will assess the health of the ear with an otoscope, looking specifically for fluid behind the eardrum and redness of the ear. Tone testing, such as an audiogram, or air-pressure tests like tympanograms, may also be performed to better understand the effects of the infection.
Antibiotics, antihistamines, decongestants, or eardrops may be prescribed, and in some instances, ear-tube surgery may be recommended.
Don’t hesitate to make an appointment with us for yourself or a loved one. The sooner a thorough examination can take place, the sooner we can help relieve the pain and discomfort of the infection.
Ear Infections in Children
The shape and size of a child’s developing ear canal make it difficult for fluid to drain—but easy for bacteria to dig in. That’s why ear infections are one of the most common reasons for childhood doctor visits. If you suspect that your child might have an ear infection, be on the lookout for symptoms like:
- Pulling or tugging on ears
- Low appetite
- Difficulty sleeping