Almost everyone has suffered an ear infection at some time. Often, these infections are mild and will clear up after a course of antibiotics; in other cases, chronic ear infections can cause pain for years, leading to hearing loss and other problems. An ear nose throat specialist (ENT) is your first line of defense when it comes to treating ear infections. Here, we’ll take a closer look at some common types of ear infections, plus we’ll provide information about some treatment options that are currently available.
Did you know that there are actually several different types of ear infections, each affection a different region of the ear? In external otitis, which is often referred to as “swimmer’s ear,” the external portion of the ear and the ear canal are affected. In cases of external otitis, the affected ear is painful when touched, pressed, or tugged.
External otitis is normally treated with ear drops containing either antibacterial or antifungal antibiotics, and some solutions contain anti-inflammatory steroids to help put a stop to the swelling and itching that accompanies this type of ear infection. In severe cases, oral antibiotics may be prescribed as well.
Otitis Media is the name given middle ear infections. These infections involve fluid buildup behind the eardrum, inside the middle ear space that is normally filled with air. This type of infection is most commonly encountered in children; however, adults may be affected as well. An ear nose throat specialist should be consulted early on in order to reduce the potential for permanent damage. On occasion, a surgical procedure known as myringotomy and tube insertion may be required to produce the desired results.
Middle ear infections are normally caused when a virus, bacteria, or fungus invades; the most common cause of otitis media in small children is streptococcus pneumoniae; in adolescents and young adults, Haemophilus influenzae is most often to blame. In some cases, these ear infections are caused by the same viruses that cause the common cold; this is because the viruses actually damage the normal defenses of the upper respiratory tract’s epithelial cells.
As its name suggests, this type of ear infection affects the inner ear. Also known as labyrinthitis, inner ear infections cause inflammation that can produce symptoms such as severe vertigo, which can bring on feelings of nausea and whirling. While the causes of inner ear infections are not often easily identified, they tend to derive from viral inflammation of the portion of the inner ear that is responsible for balance – the vestibular labyrinth. Symptoms are often so disabling that emergency care is required. Often, vestibular suppressants including meclozine or diazepam will be prescribed to help the patient to deal with the vertigo. In most cases, symptoms will subside after a few days, however, many patients report feelings of imbalance for weeks or even months after an inner ear infection. If you are diagnosed with this type of infection, you will need to consult with an ear nose throat specialist to determine how best to approach treatment.
If you suspect that you are suffering from an ear infection, or if you think your child may be suffering from an ear infection, do not wait to seek treatment. Left untended, ear infections can spread and worsen, resulting in hearing loss and in some cases, even leading to permanent, disabling problems with balance. In most cases, antibiotics can help put an almost immediate stop to the pain ear infections cause; and if more aggressive treatment is called for, the results will almost certainly be better if you get to an ENT immediately.