Ear Infection - Symptoms, Causes & How to Prevent Them


What causes an ear infection? 

Ear infections are very common and more so in children and there can be many different types. Sometimes ear infections will resolve themselves however if your symptoms are bothersome or do not improve after 3 days, we would advise you to visit your GP.

What are the symptoms?
A few of the common symptoms of ear infections include:
Painful feeling inside the ear
Hearing loss
A feeling of fullness or pressure in the ear
Pus-like ear drainage

Types of Ear Infections

Outer Ear Infections

Outer ear infections (which are often known as otitis externa) come in two main types, which are an acute infection or a chronic condition. The difference between the two is that the acute infection comes on very quickly and generally does not last longer than 7 days once treatment has been applied. If you are suffering from a chronic outer ear infection, it is likely that you will suffer for a much longer period of time, or other complications may reoccur. 

There are a number of factors that cause an outer ear infection. Even simply cleaning your ears with cotton buds could cause outer ear infections and we would advise avoiding them.

Middle Ear Infections also known as (Otitis Media)

There are a number of infections that can affect people’s hearing and one of the most common ear infections is a middle ear infection, especially amongst younger children. However, they may occur at any age and/or if there is an underlying condition in the middle ear.
A middle ear infection can arise when the Eustachian tubes becomes enflamed or congested, leading to infection of the middle ear. The Eustachian tube is a small tube that runs from each ear directly to the back of the throat. An ear infection can heal itself most of the time. Treatment can start with keeping an eye on the problem, but antibiotics can help if the ear infection doesn’t clear itself. Suffering from a number of ear infections can lead to further hearing problems and other difficulties.
It is important to be aware of the symptoms and to know that your child may be suffering from a middle ear infection. Some of the symptoms will overlap with the symptoms from a number of other illnesses, so it is not always a perfect gauge of what your child is suffering from. However, recognising these symptoms quickly will enable you to seek proper medical assistance as soon as possible.
Some things to look out for:
Rubbing or pulling at their ear
Ear looks red and inflamed
Child is irritable and may have a temperature
Weeping or drainage from the ear

Inner Ear Infections

An inner ear infection may be a case of inflammation, and usually as a result of a virus or bacteria. In addition to ear pain, symptoms may include dizziness, tinnitus, nausea, vomiting and hearing loss. An inner ear infection may be experiences in just one ear. It may also come on very suddenly and it is very important to seek immediate ENT care. Your GP can arrange this for you.
When to seek help for a possible ear infection
Sometimes ear infections resolve on their own within a few days. If your symptoms don’t improve, you should book an appointment with your doctor.  

If you experience recurrent ear infections, you may find that your doctor needs to drain fluid from the eardrum via a tube. This can relieve the pressure and the pain that develops in an infection and can prevent a ruptured eardrum. Antibiotics may be prescribed if you ear infection doesn’t improve. Your GP or audiologist may recommend you visit an ENT specialist.

Diagnosing ear infections

Your doctor will examine your ears with an instrument called an otoscope. The check-up may show:
Redness and inflammation of the eardrum and/or ear canal
Pus-like matter inside the ear canal
Bubbles or fluid behind the eardrum in the middle ear
Fluid draining from the middle ear
A perforation of the eardrum
A bulging or retracted eardrum

Treatment for ear infections

The type of ear infection you have will determine the type of treatment. In many cases of middle and outer ear infections, antibiotics are necessary.

Preventing ear infections

There are a few things you can do to reduce your chance of getting an ear infection, although it’s important to note that you can’t always prevent them.

To help prevent an ear infection, follow the guidelines below:
Keep your ears clean by washing them and using a soft flannel cloth carefully around the outer parts of the ear. Make sure you dry your ears after swimming or taking a shower.
Don’t try to clean your ears with your finger or use a cotton bud.
Manage your allergies by avoiding triggers.
Wash your hands meticulously. Avoid people who have colds or other upper respiratory problems.

Can an ear infection cause hearing loss?

Hearing loss can affect people of any age, and can be related to birth defects, exposure to loud noises, trauma and the ageing process, but did you know that ear infections can also cause hearing loss?

Ear infections, especially very severe or recurrent infections, can lead to temporary or permanent hearing problems.

Different types of hearing loss include:

Sensorineural hearing loss
The most common type of hearing loss is called sensorineural hearing loss. It can be caused by damage to tiny hair-like cells in the inner ear or damage to the auditory nerve. Often, this type of hearing loss can be treated with hearing aids.

Conductive hearing loss

This type of hearing loss comes from a mechanical problem in the middle or outer part of the ear. Conductive hearing loss can also be caused by an obstruction of some sort in the canal of the ear, such as earwax preventing sound from getting to the ear drum. It can be treated using hearing aids or other medical options.

Mixed hearing loss

Mixed hearing loss is when both aspects of sensorineural and conductive hearing loss are present.
Ear infections are usually treated with antibiotics, and when this is successful, hearing will be restored to normal levels. You may experience temporary hearing loss during the course of the infection, but this is not usually a cause for concern. If your ear infections are recurrent, you may find that the tympanic membrane in your ear becomes thicker or scars, which is known as tympanosclerosis. 

Book a FREE hearing check up

Hidden Hearing is Ireland’s leading private provider of hearing care solutions, and our national network includes over 80 and clinics. We have an excellent variety of hearing aids, including small and highly sensitive models that are invisible to other people, and you can try these when you visit your clinic.

If you are concerned about your hearing, contact us as soon as possible to book a free hearing test and talk to our audiologists about your experiences. Hearing loss can deteriorate quickly and lead to many general health problems, such as dementia and depression, but many people feel worried about visiting a hearing clinic. Our expert audiologists are committed to finding the best solutions for you and your lifestyle, so don’t put off seeking help.

Paul O'Hara; Audiologist

My name is Paul O'Hara, and I became an audiologist because I am naturally fascinated by hearing's science and the phenomenon of sound. I wanted to pursue a career that satisfies my curiosity and supports my passion. Every day and every person is different. I love my job, especially when I meet a patient who has all but lost the power of hearing, and I know I can help.

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