The Causes and Possible Effects of an Ear Infection

If you’re among the many millions that have suffered an ear infection, it is likely that it is an experience you have been slow to forget. The symptoms of the condition can be as varied as the causes but often, pain, is the one that causes the greatest distress.

The organ is divided into three main parts referred to as the outer, middle and inner regions and each one of these parts may fall victim to invasion by a variety of microorganisms that include species of bacteria, fungi and viruses. Of course, no part of the body that is in contact with the external environment, including the gastro-intestinal tract, is ever free of microorganisms but these are predominately of the commensal an non-pathogenic variety and are responsible for breaking down dead cells and other surface detritus as well as providing one of the body’s important defence mechanisms against attack by potential pathogens. In the gut they may also aid certain aspects of digestion.

Within the inner and more protected part of the ear, the environment should normally be sterile and the risk of infection is considerably lower despite the absence of any commensal organisms. When it does occur, it is usually secondary to invasion of the middle region and the consequences can be very unpleasant. If left untreated, these could even prove to be life-threatening in some cases. Temporary deafness is a common symptom and there is a significant risk that this could become permanent.

This part of the auditory system is also the location of an extremely specialised sense organ known as the labyrinth or vestibular apparatus. It is a complex organ and is sensitive both to the effects of gravity and to any movements by the body. It provides the means by which the brain is able to determine the orientation of the body at all times and thus to seamlessly adjust the muscles needed to maintain its balance.

Apart from the often intense pain that can result from the activity of pathogens in this region, any resulting disturbance to this organ is likely to give rise to prolonged and severe dizziness that frequently leads to nausea and vomiting. Patients can be so totally incapacitated by this distressing symptom that they are often incapable of controlled movement and must remain seated or prone even though this does not actually alleviate the spinning sensation.

In the case of the middle ear, the most common route of infection is normally via the Eustachian tubes that connect directly with the back of the throat and provide the means by which the pressure on either side of the eardrum may be equalised. Microorganisms affecting either the pharyngeal or the nasal membranes are provided with easy access to the region by those same tubes which are also prone to become affected. In some cases the build-up of pus is sufficient to burst the eardrum.

Involvement of this middle region commonly follows influenza or a severe cold and is often caused by opportunistic bacteria. This is one of the reasons that antibiotics are routinely administered in these cases despite the fact that they offer no defence against the virus.

Be sure to look out for early signs of an ear infection and seek treatment immediately.

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