An ear infection is caused by a bacterial or viral infection within the middle ear, the air-filled space behind the eardrum. While adults may suffer from ear infections they are far more common in children. This is because the Eustachian tubes in children are shorter and more horizontal. In addition, children still have predominant adenoids, which can easily block the opening of the Eustachian tubes if they become enlarged.
Typically, ear infections are caused by another illness already in the body, such as a cold, allergies or a sinus infection. These conditions can cause congestion and swelling of the nasal passages, throat and Eustachian tubes.
The Eustachian tubes run from the middle ear to the back of the throat. They work to regulate air pressure, refresh air and drain normal secretions from the middle ear. If the tubes swell, fluid can accumulate in the middle ear. The bacteria or virus in this fluid will then cause an infection.
Adenoids also play a large role in the development of ear infections. The adenoids sit at the back of the nose, near the opening of the Eustachian tubes. They are part of the immune system. If they do become inflamed, they can block the entrance to the Eustachian tubes, leading to a buildup of fluid in the middle ear.
Common symptoms of an ear infection are ear pain, drainage of fluid from the middle ear and diminished hearing. Children may also experience a fever, difficultly sleeping, headache and loss of appetite. You should seek medical attention if symptoms last for more than a day or the ear pain is severe.
While most ear infections don’t lead to long-term complications, frequent infections can have lasting effects. Children may develop speech delays. The infection can spread to nearby tissue, which might then lead to damage of the bone. Significant hearing loss can arise or the eardrum can rupture from the increase in pressure.
Your doctor will review your symptoms and perform an exam . Once your doctor has made a diagnosis, they will determine the right treatment plan.
Fluid build-up in the middle ear can be treated with the “wait-and-see” approach. This involves monitoring the symptoms for a week to see if the fluid resolves on its own. If this approach does not yield results antibiotics will be prescribed. A warm compress and over-the-counter pain medications can be used to manage the pain during treatment.
If children suffer from frequent ear infections ear tubes are recommended. This simple procedure inserts tiny tubes into the child’s ear to help with air circulation and fluid drainage.
If you or your child is experiencing symptoms of an ear infection contact our office at 337-266-9820.