3 Most Common Types of Ear Infections (Otitis Media)

Ear infections in the middle ear are called otitis media. They are quite common in kids between 6 months and 3 years of age. These are not serious and aren’t contagious at all but ear infections occur when a child has already had a cold for a couple of days.

Viruses or bacteria cause middle ear infections in most of the cases. To understand it well, look at it this way, the eustachian tube connects the middle ear with the back of the throat.

Foreign particles travel from the throat when the eustachian tube is swollen. This may cause infection in the middle ear. Generally, the severity of symptoms depends on the type of infection. The same are listed below.

Types of Ear Infection 

  1. Acute otitis media (AOM)

    It is the most common form of ear infection. In general cases, acute otitis media is not life-threatening. The middle ear becomes infected and swollen, and fluid is trapped behind the eardrum.

  2. Otitis media with effusion (OME)

    After the resolution of ear infection, there are chances of fluid remains behind the eardrum. A patient may not experience symptoms, but a doctor will be able to spot the remaining fluid.

  3. Chronic otitis media with effusion (COME)

    When the fluid repeatedly returns to the middle ear, with or without an infection, this condition is called COME. This reduces the capability to fight infections and has a negative impact on hearing ability.

  4. Serious Otitis Media

    Also known as glue ear, children belonging to the age group six months and two years of age are more likely to develop this infection. Once the middle ear infection worsens over time, there can be a collection of fluid and pus inside the middle ear. 

  5. Infectious myringitis 

    This is a very painful condition. Caused by a viral or bacterial attack, the ear inflames in this condition. Due to the inflammation, there are formation of small blisters. 

  6. Acute mastoiditis 

    The infection of the bone behind the ear is known as mastoiditis. Some of the symptoms include reddening and swelling of the ear, ear discharge and terrible pain. 

  7. Vestibular neuronitis 

    The vestibular system responsible for balance can get infected. The nerve leading to the vestibular system can get infected by virus resulting in inflammation. 

  8. Herpes Zoster 

    This is an infection of the auditory nerve by the herpes zoster virus. Some of the symptoms are- vertigo, ear pain, blisters on the outer ear and ear canal. 

Symptoms of Ear Infection

In kids, a sign of an ear infection is acting irritable or crying that cannot be soothed. Kids with an acute ear infection have a fever or, sometimes, trouble sleeping. Tugging on the ear is not always a sign that the child has an ear infection but it should warn you about discomfort.

The symptoms of all three types of ear infections are quite similar. 

Common symptoms of an acute ear infection in adults include:

The ear infection can start right after a cold. Immediate drainage of fluid from the ear may reflect that eardrum has ruptured. All benign ear infections involve fluid behind the eardrum. A patient can use an electronic ear monitor to see the fluid.

Risk Factors for ear infections

There are certain risk factors that can increase the chances of developing an ear infection. Some of these are-

  • Children who are younger than 3 years of age
  • Parents  who are prone to ear infections are likely to have children who are susceptible to these infections
  • People who suffer from allergies 
  • Individuals who have Eustachian problems with other underlying medical conditions are more likely to develop ear infections.
  • If babies are not breastfed properly, then they are likely to get ear infections.

One important thing that parents of small infants need to that if the kid swallows milk while lying, it can enter the eustachian tube and cause inflammation. This increases the risk of an ear infection.

 While drinking from a bottle, make sure the child sits upright. Older children can complain of an earache. It’s obvious that kids might not be able to say they have an earache, they may:

  • have an unexplained fever
  • have trouble sleeping
  • tug or pull at their ears
  • have trouble hearing quiet sounds

Also Read: Common Ear Problems in Children

Diagnosis of an ear infection

ENT specialist diagnoses ear infections by looking at the eardrum with an otoscope. They locate fluid in the middle ear, identify the color and position and monitor the pressure in the middle ear. Also, viral infections can make the eardrum look red. However, antibiotics won’t work in such cases.

A doctor might prescribe ibuprofen to reduce the pain. Remember not to give over-the-counter medications to kids and children under 6 years without talking to GP. The exceptions are medications used to treat fever.

Treatment of Ear Infection

For pain relief

In order to get relief from earache due to an infection, take doctor prescribed medication such as acetaminophen or ibuprofen. However, remember not to give aspirin to children without proper consultation. 

Also Read: How to follow home remedies for an ear infection?

Drainage

If your kid has frequent ear infections or has trouble hearing because of problems in the middle ear, he may need a tube inserted through the eardrum. The tube helps to keep air pressure equal on both sides of the eardrum and helps fluid drain from the middle ear.

Also Read: Ear pain? Try some ear drops

Prevention of Ear Infection

Here are preventive measures that one should follow to reduce the risk of developing ear infections-

  • Wash the kid’s hands and your’s to reduce the chance of catching a cold
  • Breastfeed your baby
  • Avoid bottle-feeding when the kid is lying down
  • Change the bottle to a cup by 1 year of age
  • Don’t smoke, and keep the kid away from any secondhand smoke
  • Ensure the kids gets the pneumococcal vaccine
  • Ensure the kid flu shots are up to date

Sometimes, kids have repeat infections in the ear that seem to go away between episodes. They may receive a daily dose of antibiotics to prevent new infections. However, antibiotics are not really helpful for long-term usage.

Surgery for chronic ear infections

If an infection is persistent even after usual medical treatment, or if a child has several ear infections, ENT specialist may recommend ear tubes:

  • A small tube is inserted into the eardrum, keeping open a small hole that allows air to get in so fluids can drain more easily
  • The tubes fall out by themselves; those that don’t fall out may be removed in the doctor’s office
  • Removing enlarged adenoids with surgery may be considered if ear infections are persistent

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FAQ

Can an ear infection be a sign of something more serious?

If an ear infection develops in children, there's nothing much to worry about. However, when an adult suffers from an ear infection it can due to a serious problem such as vertigo, or Menier's disease. 

What happens when an ear infection is left untreated?

When ear infections are left untreated, it can lead to serious complications such as mastoiditis, hearing loss, hole in the eardrum, facial nerve paralysis, meningitis and Meniere's disease. 

What causes ear infections in adults?

Germs such as viruses, fungi, bacteria, common cold, flu, allergies are generally responsible for ear infection in adults. 

Will an ear infection clear on its own?

Usually, an ear infection in adults cures on its own. Sometimes, due to excessive pain, the adult can take pain medicines. 

Which medicine is best for ear pain?

There are several topical anesthetic ear drops that can cure ear infection and ultimately, ear pain. For pain relief, doctors prescribe acetaminophen or ibuprofen.

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