Ear infections, or otitis media, is an infection of the middle ear, which is the area behind the eardrum. Otitis media are common in children, but they can also happen in adults. In fact, an ear infection in an adult may mean a more serious problem than in a child. So what should you be on the lookout for?
The Types of Otitis
If you have an ear infection, you should see your healthcare provider for treatment. If you have recurring ear infections, then a trip to a specialist is recommended. Otitis media can affect the middle ear in many different ways. A few different types of ear infections include:
Acute otitis media
This is an ear infection that occurs suddenly and is often accompanied with a fever and ear pain. Fluid becomes trapped under the eardrum, causing swelling and redness.
Chronic otitis media
An ear infection that does not go away or happens regularly is considered chronic. Usually not painful, sometimes this can occur with a perforation in the tympanic membrane under the eardrum and hearing loss. Fluid may come out of the ear canal with chronic otitis media.
Otitis media with fluid
Even after an infection goes away, there can still be a buildup of fluid, or effusion, and mucus, which causes a feeling of fullness in the ear. This feeling might continue for months and could even cause hearing loss
Chronic otitis media with fluid
When fluid, or effusion, remains in the middle ear for a long time or builds up regularly despite no infection, the condition is considered chronic. This type of otitis media can affect hearing.
Treating Otitis Media
The middle ear is connected to the throat by a tube called the eustachian tube, which keeps the pressure between the outer ear and inner ear balanced. The common cold or allergies can irritate this tube and cause swelling around the eustachian tube, which prevents fluid from draining from the middle ear. When the fluid behind the eardrum builds up, bacteria and viruses can grow and cause an infection. Symptoms include:
· Pain in one or both ears
· Draining from the ear
· Difficulty hearing
· Sore throat
In order to diagnose your ear infection, your healthcare provider will examine the outer ear and eardrum. They may also use a tool that blows air into the ear to examine how well the eardrum moves and to determine if there is a fluid buildup behind it. If your healthcare provider determines you have an ear infection, they may recommend:
· Pain medication
· An ear tube (for cases of chronic otitis media with fluid)
Balloon Eustacian tubeplasty This is a new procedure that can avoid the need for an eardrum tube by using a balloon inserted through the nose into the eustacian tube opening that dilates it allowing the fluid in the middle ear to naturally drain out.
Depending on the type of infection you have, your treatment will vary. If you suffer from the symptoms of an ear infection and they do not improve within two to three days, contact your healthcare provider. Especially in adults, if left untreated, ear infections can lead to long-term problems.