Ear infection is an inflammation of the middle ear. When fluid
becomes trapped and builds up in the middle ear, infection occurs. Although anyone can get ear infections, children are more susceptible due to their smaller and more level Eustachian tubes, thus it is easier for mucus to block the tubes and difficult for the fluid to drain out of the ear. Ear infection is also called otitis media (OM).
Types of Ear Infections
There are three different types of ear infections, each with different combinations.
- Acute otitis media (AOM) – also called earache
- Most common ear infection
- Fluid is confined behind the eardrum
- Otitis media with effusion (OME)
- Fluid remains confined behind eardrum (beyond AOM case)
- Chronic otitis media with effusion (COME)
- Fluid remains in the middle ear for an extended period of time or recurs over time with no necessary accompanying infection
Causes of Ear Infections
The two main causes of ear infection are bacterial and viral. As previously mentioned, the Eustachian tubes become blocked and prevent fluid drainage from the middle ear. These fluids will then enable bacteria and virus to grow and multiple and turn into an ear infection.
- Bacteria (more common cause)
- From upper respiratory infection, cold or sore throat, it may spread to the middle ear
- Common types: Streptococcus pneumoniae, Haemophilus influenza, and Moraxella catarrhalis
- The upper respiratory infection caused by viruses may attract bacteria to the microbe-friendly area and spreads to the middle ear
- Common types: respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) and influenza
- May be caused by allergic reaction
Symptoms of Ear Infections
Children may not always be able to verbalize their complaints. If the child shows any one or in combination of the following symptoms, it may denote an ear infection:
- Fluid drainage from the ear
- Pulling or tugging at the ear
- Increased irritability and restlessness
- Decreased appetite
- Balance problems
- Trouble sleeping
- Trouble hearing low sounds
For adults with ear infection, the following symptoms may occur:
- Warm fluid drainage from the ear
- Earache (can be dull, unswerving pain or sharp, abrupt pain)
- Fullness feeling in the ear
- Subdued hearing
First Aid for Ear Infections
Although no treatment is necessary for ear infections, giving first aid may help ease discomfort felt by the child or adult. The following tips include:
- Antibiotics can be given for those caused by bacteria but should only be done if ear infection has occurred for several days. Some children may not require antibiotics at all.
- For pain and fever, acetaminophen and non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medications may be taken. Do not give aspirin to children younger than 20.
- For earache, certain eardrops and codeine may be used.
- Be on the lookout for more severe symptoms which could indicate that it is more than an ear infections.