When a patient begins to feel painful sensations in the ear, it is most commonly an ear infection.
Although ear infections are more prevalent among children, adults can experience them as well. They can sometimes clear up on their own, but it is important to seek medical help if the symptoms last for more than a day, the pain is severe, or if it is affecting your normal sleep patterns.
For infants and toddlers, you should seek treatment immediately to ensure that there are no long-term effects. The specialists at Chesapeake Ear Nose & Throat have more 25 years of experience providing treatments for ear infections at their Baltimore, MD-area practice. If you or your child is suffering from ear pain, please contact our office to make an appointment with one of our doctors. One of our goals is to quickly alleviate the painful symptoms of ear infection.
Common Causes of Ear Infections
Ear infections are most commonly caused by a bacterial or viral infection of the middle ear, the eardrum, or the ear canal. Ear infections can also be caused by pressure changes when flying or scuba diving, or by direct contact injuries. When it is a bacterial or viral infection, it often results from another illness, such as a cold, flu, or allergy. This can cause congestion and swelling of the nasal passageways, the throat, and the eustachian tubes (the thin canals that run from high in the back of the throat to the middle ear).
The eustachian tubes regulate air pressure and drain normal secretions from the middle ear. When inflammation, swelling, and mucus from an illness blocks the tubes, it can cause an accumulation of fluids in the middle ear. When this fluid is infected, it produces the painful symptoms of an ear infection. This condition is more common in children because their eustachian tubes are narrower, leading them to become clogged more easily.
Ear Infections Symptoms
Infections can occur in any of the three parts of the ear:
- Outer ear infection: The outer ear extends from the eardrum, through the ear canal, and to the ear opening. An outer ear infection often starts with rash-like symptoms, but may develop into a sensation that the ear canal is swollen, tender, or painful.
- Middle ear infection: Infections in this area behind the ear drum often lead to drainage from the ear canal and a persistent feeling that there is something in your ear.
- Inner ear infection: An infection deep within the ear often affects the Eustachian tubes, which play an essential role in balance. Consequently, this type of infection can leave individuals feeling dizzy and nauseated.
Regardless of which part of the ear is infected, though, the most common symptom of an ear infection is discomfort or pain radiating from one or both ears and the feeling of pressure or of a clogged ear canal. Temporary loss of hearing is also common.
Possible Complications Resulting from Ear Infections
While most ear infections do not cause long-term problems, patients who suffer from persistent infections can eventually experience serious complications:
- Impaired Hearing - Frequent ear infections can damage the eardrum, leading to significant hearing loss.
- Speech & Developmental Delays - Infants and toddlers may experience delays in speech and developmental skills if their hearing is impaired by ear infections.
- Spreading of Infection - Infections of the ear can spread to other areas of the body.
- Eardrum Tearing - Tearing can occur because of ear infections. Some tears will require surgery.
Diagnosis and Treaments for Ear Infections
During your appointment, one of our specialists will ask about your symptoms and medical history to get a general sense of your condition before performing an in-depth examination of your ear. A special device called an otoscope is commonly used during ear exams to gain a detailed look into the ear canal and eardrum. This device is equipped with a light and magnifying lens and can help our physician diagnose the severity and location of your ear infection.
One of our specialists may diagnose your symptoms using a test known as tympanometry. This procedure evaluates your hearing to determine how well your ear is functioning. This can provide insight into the severity of the infection.
If you do have an ear infection, we can perform certain tests to determine which part of the ear is affected. With a pneumatic otoscope, for example, one of our specialists can emit a puff of air to observe if your eardrum can freely move. If the eardrum is unmoved by the release of air, it may be a sign that there is fluid pushing on the back of the eardrum and that you may have a middle ear infection.
For children who are especially prone to recurrent ear infections, your doctor may suggest PE tubes. This treatment involves an outpatient surgical procedure to place tiny tubes in the eardrums to drain fluids from the middle ear.
Tips for Preventing Ear Infections
While there is no guaranteed way to prevent an ear infection, there are steps both adults and children can take to lower their risk for an ear infection.
Children are naturally more prone to ear infections, but you can still reduce their risk by:
- Scheduling annual flu vaccinations
- Making sure your child regularly washes their hands
- Preventing exposure to tobacco smoke
- Reducing their contact with sick children
- Planning regular medical checkups
While adults can minimize their own risk of exposure in the same way, you can take additional measures by:
- Addressing seasonal allergies with medication
- Not using cotton swabs to clean the ear canal
- Refraining from putting foreign objects in the ear
- Using ear plugs while swimming
- Drying ears promptly after swimming or showers
- Avoiding swimming in contaminated bodies of water
- Using alcohol-based drops to dry ears if needed
- Quitting smoking
Contact Us Today
Ear infections are highly treatable once proper medical attention has been sought. Left untreated, an ear infection can spread, risking permanent hearing loss. If you are experiencing the symptoms of an ear infection, contact our office immediately. To schedule an examination for yourself or your child, please contact our office or call (410) 356-2626 to schedule a consultation with one of our doctors.
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