Causes and Treatment of Ear Infections in Adults
In fact, ear infections in adults are a relatively unusual occurrence and they are generally a malady to which children are far more prone. Although the auditory organs are divided into three distinct compartments, it is normally only the outer or middle chambers that tend to be subject to this type of condition, there being no direct connection between the inner chamber and the external environment. Each of the outer sections open directly to the air and is separated by the eardrum from the middle compartment that, in turn, open into the nasopharyngeal area by means of a duct known as the Eustachian tube.
The causative organisms are manifold and include a variety of viral agents as well as several species of bacteria, fungi and yeasts. Where the outer chamber is affected, it is usually as a result of contact with contaminated water. Typically, this most often occurs when swimming in the sea, in rivers or in pools that have not been adequately chlorinated. Some of the contaminated water then collects in the auditory canal and, unless it is carefully rinsed clean, any microorganisms present will eventually begin to propagate until their numbers are sufficient to begin creating problems.
The medical term for this type of condition that, incidentally, is just as common in children as it is in adults is Otitis Externa. Unattended these ear infections can cause severe discomfort, reddening, itching and flaking of the skin in the affected area and there can also be a discharges of pus as well as fever and pain on movement or contact. Treatment is relatively simple and involves the introduction of antibiotic drops and, in some cases it may be necessary to first clean out any pus and debris so as to aid the penetration of the drops. The condition is, of course, easily prevented by the simple act of wearing plugs as well as careful rinsing and drying of the auditory canals after swimming.
Where the middle chamber is affected the implication may be rather more serious and these conditions occur most commonly as a secondary effect of a cold. Because, in children, the Eustachian tubes are far smaller than those of a grownup, they more readily retain infected material and, not surprisingly, they are far more prone to be affected by the condition known as Otitis Media. Symptoms are similar to those of Otitis Externa but, a sensation of pressure is common as are temporary hearing loss and vertigo.
Very often children experience regular recurrences and this may eventually call for a specialist ENT surgeon to insert grommets also referred to as tympanostomy tubes into the eardrums in order to keep the middle chamber aerated. Typically they will remain in place for between 6 and 24 months and fall out naturally as a consequence of growth.
More often than not, in the more mature patients, the use of an oral antibiotic is sufficient to overcome the problem although they too can suffer recurrences often as a result of nasal polyp or enlarged tonsils or that result in obstruction to the Eustachian tubes.
Surprisingly, it is often during the investigation of hearing loss at an audiology centre such as The Ear Institute that this type of ear infection in adults is first spotted.