Known medically as otitis media, an ear infection is an inflammation of the middle ear. It is the result of fluid becoming trapped behind the eardrum, usually because of a virus or bacteria. While anyone of any age can develop an ear infection, they are much more common in children than in older adults. In fact, three out of four children will experience an ear infection by the time they are three years old.
What Causes an Ear Infection?
The most common causes of an ear infection are bacteria and viruses, which are usually already in your body after a cold, sore throat or upper respiratory infection. Colds, flu and strep throat can also lead to an ear infection.
Germs can spread to the middle ear and become trapped when the Eustachian tube (responsible for draining fluid) becomes swollen or blocked due to a cold or other illness. Kids have smaller tubes than adults; because of this and the fact that their immune systems are still developing, they are more likely to suffer from ear infections.
Common Symptoms of Ear Infections
Besides the painful earache, those with an ear infection may also experience:
- Discharge from the ear
- Difficulty hearing
- Loss of appetite
- Trouble sleeping
How Are Ear Infections Treated?
Ear infections are usually treated with antibiotics, over-the-counter pain relievers and eardrops.
For those who do not respond well to medications, surgically implanted ear tubes may be needed. They help provide ventilation and prevent fluid from accumulating in the middle ear. They remain in the ear between six months and two years; usually they will fall out of the ear on their own. If they don’t, a simple surgery is needed to remove them.
To learn more about preventing or treating ear infections, contact your local Portland doctor.