Ear infections can cause earache, discomfort and temporary hearing loss. They usually subside within about a week, but stubborn infections may need pain relief and antibiotics.
What are the main types of ear infections?
Outer ear infection or swimmer’s ear — Otitis Externa
There are two main types of ear infections. The first occurs when water gets trapped in the ear canal by wax build-up. The bacteria creates inflammation, pain, redness and sometimes fever
Middle-ear infections — Otitis Media
The second type is called a middle-ear infection or otitis media. They are viral or bacterial infections in the middle ear clogging the tubes inside the ears with mucus and fluid. Middle ear infections are often painful. Symptoms can include high fever, difficulty hearing, nausea and vomiting.
What is acute otitis media?
Acute otitis media is a middle ear infection. It occurs when fluid or mucus caught in the middle ear causes swelling and redness in the ear behind and around the eardrum. It causes ear pain, fever, and partial or complete hearing loss due to fluid or mucus caught in the middle ear.
It’s called recurrent acute otitis media when there are repeated episodes of middle ear infections.
What is otitis media with effusion (OME)?
Otitis media with effusion (OME) is fluid in the middle ear but without an acute infection. Sometimes, the infection clears up but mucus and fluid continue to build up in the middle ear. This build-up creates a feeling of fullness in the ear that makes it difficult to hear. Otitis media with effusion (OME) usually gets better on its own.
The condition is classified as chronic otitis media with effusion (OME) when the infection lasts for at least three months.
Why Do Children Get Otitis Media So Often?
One of the reasons infants and young children get otitis media so often is connected to the eustachian tube. Because the eustachian tube is more horizontal than it is in adults, it prevents fluid to flow smoothly. When it isn't working properly, mucus is unable to drain from behind the eardrum. Instead, it stays stuck and causes pain and pressure. This situation often leads to infection. As children get older, the eustachian tube becomes more vertical and begins to drain better.
How are middle ear infections diagnosed?
It’s important to take ear infections and ear pain seriously. If you have ear pain or hearing loss, proper diagnosis by a doctor is critical to preventing permanent damage. See your GP, paediatrician or an ear, nose, and throat (ENT) specialist immediately for diagnosis and treatment. A health care professional will have the proper instruments to look inside your ear. If you have an acute middle ear infection, your eardrum will be very red. If there is pus inside the inner ear, your eardrum may bulge forward, increasing the risk of eardrum perforation.
Your doctor can determine if the infection causing your ear infection is bacterial or viral.
Can ear infections lead to hearing loss or other complications?
Ear infections can lead to temporary hearing difficulty or hearing loss as the build-up of fluid prevents sound from getting through.
Ongoing ear infections can lead to complications like scar tissue on the eardrum. The scar tissue can lead to hearing difficulty and eventually ruptured eardrums. If the tiny ear bones called ossicles in your inner ear are damaged or deformed, this can cause hearing loss.
If you experience ear pain or hearing loss, please see your GP or an ear, nose and throat (ENT) specialist.