Ear Infections – Their Causes and Their Possible Consequences

Although ear infections occur in patients of all ages they are seen most frequently in infants. In fact, during the first two years or so of life, they are likely to be the most common reason for a parent to seek the services of a paediatrician. The auditory organs consist of three anatomically separate compartments and any one or more may be affected by these conditions and may be limited to just one side or extend to both.

The general term applied to these inflammatory conditions is otitis and this will normally be qualified by a suffix in order to indicate precisely which of the organ’s three chambers is involved.  Where it is the outer region that is affected, the condition may be referred to as…

Otitis Externa

Also known as swimmer’s ear since it is commonly contracted as a result of swimming in contaminated water, it will be the outer structure and, or the auditory canal that is involved. Typically this condition is characterised by a visible reddening plus pain in response to contact and may be accompanied by a mild fever. Swelling may result in closure of the auditory canal and cause varying degrees of deafness.

The causative agent is most often found to be a bacterium although fungi and yeasts are occasionally implicated. The prompt application of a topical antibiotic or fungicide in the form of drops will most often serve to eliminate the offending organism and the symptoms in outer ear infections within five to seven days.

Recurrences are not uncommon and may become sufficiently frequent to warrant the attention of an ENT specialist.

Where the middle chamber is the focus, the condition is termed…

Otitis Media

Again quite common and especially so in children; marked deafness, severe earache, inflammation extending via the Eustachian tube to the pharyngeal region and a high temperature are the typical signs. Less commonly, tinnitus and dizziness may also be encountered.

A gradual build-up of pus can cause pressure and often leads to a rupture of the tympanic membrane.  Surprisingly perhaps, this serves to relieve the pain and the injured eardrum will normally heal spontaneously with the return of normal hearing following successful treatment.

As in otitis externa, recurrences are quite common among children. Where the condition becomes chronic it is usually painless and a smelly discharges and deafness are likely to be the only clues. Frequently, antibiotics are only effective when administered systemically and in severe cases surgery may prove necessary.

Similar conditions that may occur in the inner chamber are much rarer and are described either as…

Otitis Interna or Labyrinthitis

Associated with sudden loss of hearing and dizziness they are most often viral in origin and are frequently a complication of the common cold. However the causative organisms of mumps, measles and herpes have all been implicated.

While, in the majority of cases, each of these conditions may be readily treated it is always important to take their symptoms seriously and to seek professional advice from your general practitioner who may in, turn refer you to an ENT specialist.

Often, where deafness is the prime symptom, a patient will seek the help of an audiologist and many of those examined at The Ear Institute are found, simply, to have ear infections.

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