Ear infections are not as common in adults as they are in children, but they can still occur, especially with adults who experience allergies or chronic sinusitis. A middle ear infection occurs in the usually air-filled space behind your eardrum. When this space becomes filled with fluid, it can lead to an infection due to viral, bacterial or fungal growth. Germs from your nose and throat can become trapped in this space when you are sick and this is what leads to the infection. There is a tube that connects your throat and ear together, called the Eustachian tube. Its job is to equalize the air pressure between the environment and your middle ear. You’ve experienced your ears popping on a plane or going up/down a steep hill, this is your Eustachian tube equalizing environmental air pressure. When this tube becomes swollen due to sickness or allergies, fluid gets trapped in that space behind your eardrum. Risk factors for ear infections include:
There are a few symptoms associated with an ear infection and the most common one is an earache. An earache can range anywhere from mild to severe and can be intermittent or continuous. You may also experience itching or drainage from the ear when an infection is present. Other symptoms associated with an ear infection include:
To have an ear infection diagnosed, you will need to see one of our ear specialists. The doctor will take a look inside your ear to determine whether or not you actually have an infection, as well as to assess the severity of it. The doctor will be able to see if there is any fluid trapped in the space behind the eardrum with a tool called an otoscope. They may also perform a test called a tympanogram.
Ear infections do not typically need special treatment, as those caused by viruses often go away on their own. Over the counter medications such as Tylenol and Advil are recommended for the pain. You can ease the pain associated with an ear infection by placing a warm washcloth on your ear and letting it rest there. However, some infections are caused by bacteria or fungus and require prescription medication. In children, minor surgery is sometimes necessary to heal recurring ear infections. When someone has recurrent infections, the ear specialist will insert ototubes into the eardrum to drain the fluid.
Ear infections typically last for about 10-14 days, but they may heal quicker than that or even last longer than that. If you feel that your ear infection is becoming worse, you experience prolonged hearing loss, or the earache is growing in intensity, you should talk to an ear specialist. Our doctors are specifically trained to treat ear infections and other ear-related disorders.
There are ways to prevent an ear infection. Because one major cause for ear infections is smoking or exposure to smoke, you should avoid smoking or being around second hand smoke. Smoke tends to cause blockages that clog the tube that connects your throat and ear, and it can cause fluid to build up in the space. Also, make sure to avoid people who are sick, and if you cannot, then limit your exposure. Additionally, always wash your hands after touching doorknobs and using the bathroom. Upper respiratory infections are one of the most common causes of ear infections, so avoiding colds and flu will limit your chance of getting an ear infection.
If you suspect you or your child has an ear infection, you should seek medical care to assess the situation and receive treatment. An ear infection will cause pain in both adults and children, and it can make your baby irritable and fussy. Consult one of our caring ear specialists today for an evaluation.
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