Middle ear infections are incredibly common, especially in children. They can be painful and cause a lot of discomfort but, for most people, will clear up of their own accord and shouldn’t cause any ongoing issues. However, sometimes middle ear infections can become problematic, especially if they are an increasingly frequent occurrence, or where there has been damage to a part of the ear as a result of the infection. This is everything that you need to know about middle ear in infections and the potential problems to look out for.
What is a middle ear infection?
Also known as ‘otitis media,’ this type of infection will cause inflammation, redness and a build up of fluid behind the eardrum. A middle ear infection is especially common in childhood and around one in four children will experience one before they reach the age of 10. However, they can often affect adults too. The most dominant symptom of this kind of infection is an earache and you may also experience a high temperature, a loss of hearing in the ear and sickness. The earache is caused by fluid building up and stretching the eardrum - at some point this may burst (perforated ear drum), which can ease the feeling of pain in the ear.
Middle ear infection complications
An ear infection of this type will often clear up on its own - even if the eardrum has burst this will usually heal by itself. However, there are a number of situations in which complications can arise with a middle ear infection.
- Infections become frequent. If you’re suffering from a lot of middle ear infections then there may be damage to the eardrum or you may have ‘glue ear,’ which is when fluid stays in the ear and causes ongoing deafness.
- Chronic middle ear infections. A chronic ear infection simply doesn’t go away and this can be very problematic, especially because of the impact this can have on your life. A chronic middle ear infection may be characterised by persistent deafness and an unpleasant smelling discharge from the ear.
- Mastoiditis. The mastoid bone surrounds the ear and this can become infected and cause mastoiditis. This can be quite a serious condition, especially in children, but is simply treated with a course of antibiotics.
- Other symptoms. If you’ve had an ear infection and you also start to experience symptoms such as tinnitus, dizziness or weakness in the face then it’s essential to see an ear nose and throat specialist as these could be signs of something more serious.
- An inner ear infection. This tends to be a more serious infection and is usually caused by a virus - most people will experience this as sudden hearing loss and dizziness.
Most ear infections can be easily treated with antibiotics, either as drops or taken by mouth. In some cases a hospital stay may be necessary. If you have an ear infection that is recurring or goes on for too long - or is accompanied by other symptoms - it’s essential to get checked out by a specialist to ensure that nothing more serious is going on.