The basic science of an ear infection is that it happens when bacteria enters the middle part of the ear. It’s this that causes the inflammation that can result in pain and discomfort. Although ear infections are most common in young children they can affect us at any age. They are not usually dangerous but can be very uncomfortable and if they become chronic or cause issues with hearing may require a referral to an ear, nose and throat (ENT) specialist. This is everything that you need to know about ear infections.
What causes an ear infection?
Most are caused by bacteria entering the middle part of the ear – the Eustachian tube. These tubes are much smaller in children and can get easily blocked, which is why young people are much more susceptible to ear infections than adults tend to be. There are other causes of blocked Eustachian tubes that can lead to an ear infection, including congestion from a cold and allergies, which tends to mean germs are caught in the Eustachian tubes, providing the perfect environment in which an infection can thrive.
What does an ear infection feel like?
People who have ear infections tend to suffer in a similar way. For example, an ear infection is usually accompanied by pain and difficulty hearing. Someone with an ear infection may also have a high fever and this can lead to other symptoms such as a loss of appetite. Children can find ear infections particularly difficult to deal with so it’s often worth taking steps to make sure that your child isn’t overly susceptible to them. For example, frequent hand washing can help to minimise the potential for bacteria to get into the ear and even something as simple as ensuring a child is sitting up when drinking from a bottle or cup can help. Other simple steps include making sure that your child’s injections are up to date and keeping them away from smoky environments. Breastfeeding up to six months old and avoiding the use of a pacifier before a child is a year old have also been found to help.
Treating an ear infection
For most people, including children, an ear infection will clear up of its own accord in a couple of days. However, if this doesn’t happen then it’s important to get some medical treatment. This might be a short course of antibiotics – it’s important to ensure that you, or your child, finish the entire course of antibiotics even after the symptoms appear to have cleared up. Painkillers can also be prescribed to help deal with the discomfort that ear infections cause. If the ear infection is ongoing, or there are issues with hearing loss, then you might be referred to an ear, nose and throat specialist.
For most of us, an ear infection is painful and uncomfortable but a condition that is likely to clear up on its own fairly quickly. Whether you are the sufferer – or your child – it’s important to know all about ear infections so that you understand what steps to take next.