The ear is made up of three parts – the outer ear, the canal, and the eardrum. The outer ear is the part which you can see, and the canal is what leads to the eardrum. The middle part of the ear is separated from the outer ear by the eardrum and tiny bones which amplify sound. The innermost part of the ear is where sounds are translated from electrical impulses, and these signals are then sent to the brain. It is possible for any of these three parts of the ear to become infected by bacteria, fungus, or viruses.
Young children are particularly likely to get middle ear infections; these are medically referred to as otitis media. It is estimated that almost four out of five children will suffer from at least one middle ear infection at some point.
Symptoms Of Ear Infections
Symptoms of ear infections are dependent on the cause of the infection. However, they can include;
- Earache and pains
- Mild deafness, or a sensation of muffled sounds
- Noises within the ear such as a ringing or buzzing sound
- Discharge from the ear
- A fever
- Loss of appetite
- Itchiness around the outer part of the ear
- Blisters around the outer ear or within the ear canal
- A loss of balance (vertigo)
Causes And Contributing Risk Factors To Ear Infections
The ear is connected to the top of the nose through the Eustachian tube. This tube can equalise air pressure within the ear and funnel any secretions from the middle ear down towards the throat. The walls of the Eustachian tube lie flat against one another so that migration of bacteria and other microorganisms from the nose and throat to the ear is limited.
However, when we swallow, a small muscle flexes and can open up the Eustachian tube. This allows equalisation of air pressure and for any secretions to be drained. When the Eustachian tube is blocked, secretions and bacteria can build up in the middle ear. As a result, ear infections develop along with symptoms such as mild deafness and the increased chances of ruptured eardrums.
Some causes and contributing risk factors for ear infections include;
- Infections within the upper respiratory tract
- A sudden change in air pressure – such as those experienced during air travel
- A blocked or smaller than average Eustachian tube
- Medical conditions such as a cleft palate
- A young age, as infants are more prone to developing ear infections
- Swimming in water which is polluted
- Not drying the outer ear properly after bathing or other water activities
- Overly cleaning the ears – this can lead to scratching of delicate tissues in the ear
To correctly diagnose an ear infection, a physical examination and laboratory analysis of any pus or discharge is required. Some of the most common types of ear infections can include;
- Otitis media
- Glue ear
- Acute mastoiditis
- Vestibular neuronitis
If you are suffering from an earache and pains, accompanied by any of the above symptoms such as fever or feeling nauseous, see your doctor or primary healthcare provider for an official diagnosis and appropriate treatment.