An ear infection is commonly known as otitis media. It is the condition, which generally affects the children. It can also be accompanied by a common cold, flu and respiratory infections. The reason for this is that the Eustachian tube connects the middle ear. For this reason, the germs entering the nose and sinus cavities can also enter into the middle ear through the Eustachian tube.
If the ear infection is left untreated, it can lead to many complications like perforation of the eardrum, facial nerve paralysis, mastoiditis (which is a swelling of a bone next to the ear), hearing loss, meningitis, and Meniere’s disease (in adults).
Causes of Ear Infections
The middle ear is present behind the eardrum. It should be well ventilated by getting the air through the Eustachian tube, which helps in keeping it clean and dry. However, in case the Eustachian tube is blocked due to some reason, it can become damp which can promote the growth of germs.
The Eustachian tube is especially tender in kids, which makes it difficult to remain open. There are some issues like sinus, smoking, change in air pressure, and adenoid, cold, allergy which can block the Eustachian tube making it difficult to pass air to the Eustachian tube.
In the case of kids, the most common cause of ear infection can be upper respiratory viral infections like common colds. Due to this, there is inflammation in the Eustachian tube which makes it difficult to pass the air through the middle ear. It can also be due to allergens like pollen, dust, smoke, or other pollutants. Bacteria can turn the swelling into infections accompanied by fevers.
The bacteria found in the infected ear are similar to those which cause pneumonia, cold, flu, and sinusitis. In the case of children, a pneumococcal vaccine can be given to prevent viral infections. There can be numerous patterns of ear infections. If it occurs once it is known as an acute ear infection. In case it comes, again and again, say thrice in six months, it is known as a recurrent ear infection. It indicates the malfunctioning of the Eustachian tube. In case the fluid is formed in the middle ear, but the infection is not there, it is called otitis media with effusion. Here, the fluid is formed as the ear is not properly ventilated.
Symptoms of Ear Infection
- Pain or discomfort in the air
- Persistent feeling of air pressure in the air
- Fussiness, irritability and excessive crying in case of small babies
- Draining of pus from the ear
- Hearing loss
Factors responsible for ear infections are as follows:
- Change in altitude
- Change in climate
- Use of pacifiers
- Recent infections/illness
- Smoking or passive smoking
- Bottle feeding in case of babies
Complications Associated With Ear Infection
Accumulation of fluid in the ear can be followed by pus formation and rupturing of the eardrum. It may lead to the formation of a small tear or hole in the eardrum. Normally, it takes a few days to heal without any medical assistance. The spinning sensation due to rupturing of the eardrum can lead to nausea or vomiting. In case it doesn’t heal on its own, the doctor should be immediately consulted.
It can lead to hearing loss as the sound from the outer ear is not transmitted to the inner ear. It can harm the language development in children. Children may find it difficult to locate from which direction the sound is coming. They may find it difficult to distinguish different sounds in a noisy atmosphere. Ear infection can lead to auditory processing disorders although it may not directly lead to permanent hearing loss if the infection is severe and persists for long.
People Prone To Ear Infections
Following people are likely to experience recurrent middle ear infections:
- Those with a family history of such infections
- Bottle-fed babies (breastfed babies are less likely to have ear infections)
- Passive smokers
- Those with abnormalities of the palate (like a cleft palate)
- Those with poor immunity
- Those with chronic respiratory infections/diseases, like colds, cystic fibrosis, flu and asthma
Long Term Effects of Ear Infections
Long term effects of ear infections are as follows:
- Hearing loss
- Delayed language development
- Rupturing of eardrum
Prevention of Ear Infections
Ear infections can be avoided through the following practices.
- Washing hands frequently
- Avoiding crowded places
- Avoiding pacifiers for babies
- Breastfeeding the infants
- Immunisation of kids
- Quitting smoking or avoiding passive smoking
It is better to avoid the conditions which can lead to ear infections. Bottle feeding should be strictly avoided for small babies. Cleanliness and hygiene should be given due attention. One should avoid sitting close to someone who is smoking. Flu and cold should be treated immediately. Kids can be vaccinated for preventing its occurrence.