What are Ear Infections?
Otitis media is the medical term for an inflammation of the middle ear, commonly referred to as an ear infection.
Ear infections can occur in the outer or middle ear. An ear infection occurs in the middle ear when fluid becomes trapped following a viral or bacterial infection. This painful affliction is most common in children, but can affect people of all ages.
Ear infections can also occur in the outer ear. They are most common when the skin in the outer ear is dry and cracked. Ear infections can be either acute (of short duration) or chronic (persistent or recurring frequently).
What Causes Ear Infections?
The majority of ear infections are viral or bacterial in nature, usually occurring after a cold or upper respiratory infection. Less commonly, ear infections can be fungal. These conditions cause swelling of the eustachian tube, a small canal that connects the middle ear to the nostrils and provides an outlet for fluid drainage, trapping germs and fluid in the middle ear and leading to infection.
Children are more susceptible to ear infections for a number of reasons. Their eustachian tubes are smaller and more prone to swelling, which can cause fluid to become trapped in the middle ear, pressing against the eardrum and lead to pain. Ear infections can also occur when germs become trapped in the middle ear, leading to infection.
What Are the Symptoms of an Ear Infection?
The hallmark signs of an ear infection are pain and pressure in the ear and fluid drainage. These may be accompanied by a low-grade fever and hearing loss. Infants are often fussier than usual, and may cry inconsolably, refuse to eat, and have trouble sleeping. They may also pull or tug on the ear. Symptoms may be milder in chronic ear infections.
Should you or your children display any of these symptoms, schedule an appointment with a member of our team at Texas ENT & Allergy. The sooner an acute ear infection is treated, the lower the chances of it developing into a chronic condition.
How Are Ear Infections Treated?
Can Ear Infections Cause Complications?
Chronic ear infections can lead to a variety of complications if left untreated, including hearing loss, damage to the bones in the middle ear, balance problems, a middle ear cyst called a cholesteatoma, facial paralysis, and inflammation of the brain. Early detection and treatment are crucial to avoid these potential complications. Recurrent ear infections may also lead to serious complications such as impaired hearing, speech or developmental delays, spread of infection, and tearing of the eardrum. Prevention is always the best approach when it comes to dealing with ear infections.
More about Ear Tubes
In some cases, surgery may be necessary to insert ear tubes to help provide ventilation and relieve pressure. Which leads to the question, what are ear tubes? Ear tubes are tiny cylinders, made from plastic or other materials, that are surgically inserted into the eardrum. They are meant to remain in place for as little as six months to as long as several years. Eventually, they will either fall out on their own or will need to be surgically removed. They go by a variety of names including tympanostomy tubes, ventilation tubes, and PE (pressure equalization) tubes.
The ear tube surgery, known as a myringotomy, is an outpatient procedure performed under general anesthesia. Fluid behind the eardrum is suctioned out, a small incision is made in the eardrum, and the tube is inserted. The procedure is quick and painless, and usually takes no longer than 15 minutes. Myringotomy is a common and safe procedure, and complications are rare. Occasionally, patients will experience a perforation of the eardrum, scarring, or infection.
What can you expect after ear tube surgery?
After an ear tube procedure, your child will likely be sleepy and irritable for the rest of the day and possibly nauseous from the anesthesia. In most cases, children resume regular activities within 24 hours of the surgery.
The health care team will closely monitor your child for any complications from the surgery or anesthesia in the recovery room. If there are no complications, your child will be able to go home within a few hours.
It is important to follow all instructions given by your doctor after surgery to help ensure a smooth and successful recovery.
Benefits of Ear Tubes
Ear tubes provide ventilation to the middle ear and allow fluids to drain, reducing the chances of an ear infection from occurring. They can restore hearing loss caused by excess middle ear fluid, alleviate speech and balance problems, and improve behavior and sleep problems caused by ear infections.
Ear tubes are highly effective in reducing chronic ear infections, though some children (approximately 25 percent) who receive them before the age of two may need them again.