What is an Ear Infection?
An ear infection occurs when a bacterial, fungal or viral infection affects either the outer, middle or inner ear.
Ear infections can be categorised as outer, middle or inner, and chronic or acute. Acute infections are painful and often develop rapidly, while chronic infections may not heal or recur numerous times. Chronic infections can also cause damage to the middle and inner ear.
While middle and outer ear infections are the most common, inner ear infections are less frequent and are sometimes a sign of another underlying issue.
Signs and Symptoms of Ear Infections
People with an ear infection often experience a range of varying symptoms depending on the location of the infection.
A person suffering with an inner ear infection is likely to experience nausea, vomiting, dizziness, hearing loss and ringing in the ears.
Patients presenting with middle ear infections often complain of an earache or blocked ear as well as pressure, fever, reduced hearing and sometimes balance issues. A discharge may occur also.
Outer ear infections can begin with an itchy rash. They can also be painful, hot, tender, red and swollen and often involve a discharge.
While these symptoms may be unpleasant and even embarrassing, we are very experienced in dealing with them and will assist you to cope with that discomfort while the infection settles.
Causes of Middle Ear Infections
Middle ear infections are caused when the small tubes that run from the middle ear to the throat, known as the Eustachian tubes, become sticky or blocked. This results in a build-up of fluid which creates a warm, moist environment for microbes to grow. This fluid puts pressure on the eardrum, causing pain and discomfort.
There are a range of causes for the blockages of these tubes including:
- Upper respiratory tract infections
- Dental issues including infections
- Infected or swollen glands in the throat
- Changes in air pressure
- Eustachian tube dysfunction
- Changes in weight
Young children are particularly at risk of suffering from ear infections due to the nature of their eustachian tubes. Caused by bacteria and viruses, a middle ear infection often begins after a child has a sore throat, cold or episodes of teething.
Preventing Ear Infections
Some people are more susceptible to ear infections, however there are a few simple steps you can take to reduce your chances of getting an ear infection. Our Doctors like to take a ‘partnership approach’ with the Patient. When the patient takes responsibility for good ear hygiene this helps to optimise their treatment plan. Each patients plan is individualised, but some basic good habits include:
- Do not instrument your ears in an attempt to ‘clean’ them. This includes the use of cotton buds
- Ensure your ears are completely dry after swimming or taking a shower
- Avoid smoking and second hand smoke
- Manage your allergies and avoid triggers
- Remain up to date with vaccinations for influenza, pneumonia, and meningitis
- Making sure you attend your agreed upon appointments
Diagnosing Ear Infections
At Coolangatta Ear Clinic, you will have a consultation with one of our specialist ear doctors (GPs with a Special Interest). They will discuss your symptoms with you and conduct a thorough examination of the ear canal using an operating microscope which has superior optics, magnification and illumination. If required, debris in the external canal is removed with micro-suction or other manual techniques.
Treating Ear Infections
If you are suffering with the above Signs and Symptoms, you should seek medical advice from our specialist ear doctors as soon as possible to resolve the issue without causing long term damage to your ear. We will treat an ear infection competently and expediently by examining the ear with a surgical quality microscope and other relevant equipment so that the correct diagnosis is made from the outset. A practitioner without an operating microscope may not be able to visual the problem adequately, An unnecessary delay could cause the infection to worsen or the wrong treatment to be commenced, which may result in other unwanted delay, expense and complications.