Ear infections can affect the inner ear or outer ear and occur more commonly in children. Studies have shown that by their third birthday, three out of four children have had at least one ear infection. Unlike childhood ear infections which are often minor, adult ear infections generally signal towards a more serious health issue. Certain factors like age, cold and allergies, family history, birth defects, weak immunity, certain medical conditions and exposure to second-hand smoke increases the risk of ear infections. Also, bottle fed babies, infants who use a pacifier and children in child care centres are more likely to contract ear infections. Ear infections are of many types. Listed below are 5 common types of ear infections.
#1. Otitis Media
This common ear infection is an inflammatory disease of the middle ear, which commonly affects babies and young kids. A middle-ear infection is the most common type of ear infection. It is characterized by inflammation of middle ear, fluid or pus in the middle ear, ear pain, redness of the eardrum, fever and trouble with hearing. Patients with otitis media experience symptoms like drainage of fluid from the ear, troubled sleep, loss of appetite. Babies with this ear problem may often tug on their ear, fuss or cry more than usual. Treatment for this type of ear infection is based on the patient’s age and severity of the symptoms. Generally, this type of ear infection often gets cured on its own without treatment. However, in case of Chronic Otitis Media (COM), wherein the fluid present in the middle ear does not drain on its own within 6 weeks and gets infected repeatedly, ear tubes may be needed to help with the drainage. Patients with this type of ear infection can experience symptoms like hearing loss, balance issues, deep ear pain, chronic ear drainage, facial weakness, fatigue, fever, headache, confusion, and swelling behind the ear. COM generally develops over many years among sufferers of frequent ear trouble.
#2. Otitis Media With Effusion
Otitis media with effusion (OME), also known as serous or secretory otitis media (SOM), is an ear infection in which fluid is present in the middle ear and swelling develops in the inner ear. The fluid is generally not troublesome and goes away on its own in 4 to 6 weeks. In case, the fluid does not drain on its own within this time frame, the patient would need to be treated with antibiotics. This type of ear infection happens as a result of cold, sore throat or an upper respiratory infection. OEM tends to develop in kids aged between 6 months to 3 years. Boys are more prone to this type of ear infection than girls and this ear condition commonly occurs during the fall and winter months.
#3. Otitis Externa
Otitis Externa is also known as Swimmer’s ear. It is an infection of the outer ear and ear canal. This type of ear infection is commonly seen during the summer months when children tend to swim more frequently and their ears stay moist and warm more often. One can get this type of ear infection while having a cold or middle-ear infection. Even swimming in bacteria infested water, getting something stuck in the ear and scratching inside the ear can trigger swimmer’s ear. The general symptoms of swimmer’s ear are hearing loss, pain and itchiness in the ear, and draining of smelly, yellow or yellow-green pus from the ear. This type of ear infection is typically treated with antibiotic ear drops which need to be administered for around 2 weeks. The ears should also be kept dry during the treatment of this ear infection.
#4. Ruptured Eardrum
The condition of a hole or tear in the eardrum is known as ruptured eardrum. It is generally caused by loud noise, infection or an injury. Accumulation of fluids in your middle ear due to infection can cause increased pressure on the eardrum and further lead to rupture. Most often ruptured eardrum cures on its own within a few weeks. This problem can cause issues with hearing.
When otitis media is not treated adequately, then this ear infection often spreads into the surrounding bone causing Mastoiditis. Mastoiditis is basically a bacterial infection of the mastoid, i.e. the bone behind the ear. This is a serious type of ear infection, which should be treated with intravenous antibiotics. If not treated properly, Mastoiditis can lead to blood poisoning, deafness, brain injury, meningitis, and even fatality.
Even though ear infections are more common in children, adults are still quite susceptible to these problems. Patients suffering from ear pain should pay close attention to the symptoms and inform their doctor about the same to accurately determine the type of ear infection or ear problem and decide on the appropriate course of treatment.
- American Academy of Otolaryngology – Head and Neck Surgery – https://www.enthealth.org/conditions/
- Mayo Clinic – https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/ear-infections/symptoms-causes/syc-20351616
- WebMD – https://www.webmd.com/cold-and-flu/ear-infection/understanding-otitis-media-symptoms