Annoying and painful, ear infections are a common condition that affect around 80% of children, particularly children at or under age 3. Adults, too, can suffer from ear infections, though they’re less common in adults than they are in children. Fortunately, because ear infections are so common, they’re well-known by most health care practitioners, and treating them is easy.
At Florida Ear Nose Throat & Facial Plastic Surgery Center, our medical professional team is headed by Wade Han, MD, FACS, and Elvira Livigni-De Armas, Au.D., both of whom have years of experience dealing with conditions that affect ears. There are several types of ear infections, but a few options are effective for nearly every infection.
How did this happen?
As mentioned, acute otitis media, or ear infections, are very common — more so in children than in adults, but adults can be affected by ear infections, too. Ear infections are caused when a pathogen, virus, or bacteria enters your Eustachian tube, which connects the nose and middle ear. One of the sources of pathogens could be an upper-respiratory infection that you already have.
After viruses or bacteria in your breathing passages become lodged in your Eustachian tube, they cause inflammation, allowing a buildup of fluids and mucus. The result is the pain and discomfort of an ear infection. In young children, the Eustachian tube is shorter than it is in adults, making them more prone to ear infections.
How long will I have it?
Ear infections, as a general rule, tend to last for just a few days. The infection typically takes place in the middle ear, behind the eardrum, and should clear up within a few days. Symptoms of an ear infection include:
- Pain in the ear
Ear infections can be acute, occurring once or twice in a person’s lifetime, or chronic, lasting for longer than a few days or happening regularly. It is also possible for an ear infection to affect the outer portion of the ear. Outer ear infections, or otitis externa, and have their own set of symptoms:
- Pain on the outer ear
- Swelling of the outer ear and/or earlobe
Outer ear infections are colloquially called “swimmer’s ear,'' as they often occur in people who swim regularly and fail to properly cleanse and dry the ear area after enjoying their time in the water. Bacterial infections are also the normal cause of outer ear infections, just as they are the cause of middle ear infections. Scratching the outer flesh of your ear, or inserting your fingers or objects into your ear can cause outer ear infections.
What happens if I don’t treat my ear infection?
Skipping treatment for any ear infection will not only result in continued pain and discomfort, but can also lead to more serious consequences, like hearing loss or a tear in the eardrum. The infection could also spread through the pus that it produces.
Ear infections can occasionally become severe, spreading deeper into the ear, causing cysts, facial paralysis, and even inflammation of the brain.
My ear infection won’t go away.
Most ear infections clear up with basic treatment, like a warm or cold compress on the ear, eardrops, and using anti-inflammatory over-the-counter drugs, like ibuprofen or acetaminophen. If your ear infection doesn’t clear up, or if you have severe symptoms, call us at either of our Florida offices for a consultation, or book an appointment with us online.