Inflammation and irritation of the inner, middle or outer ear create a variety of symptoms that affect your balance and hearing. Typically, most ear infections occur due to inflammation, or bacterial and viral invaders.
However, when bacterial orviral infectionsoccur, they usually affect the inner and middle ear. Most problems affect the outer or middle ear, such as “swimmers ear,” go away by themselves in a few days, with severe infections lasting up to one or two weeks.
Infections of the inner ear last much longer, and patients can experience symptoms for months before the virus or bacteria clear.
Symptoms of ear infections include;
• Nausea and vomiting.
• Issues with balance.
• Problems with walking in a straight line.
• Earache and pain.
• Tinnitus – ringing in the ears.
The majority of ear infections occur in the middle ear. When this area becomes infected, patients may experience additional symptoms to those listed above, which include; pain and fever, as well as discharge from the ear canal.
When middle ear infections coincide with another virus, such as the flu or upper respiratory infection – symptoms can also include sinus pressure, a runny nose, and a sore throat. Middle ear infections also produce problems with hearing for infected individuals, although this is more common with an inner ear infection that those affecting the middle ear.
Inner ear infections typically present symptoms that affect the person’s balance, inducing feelings of dizziness or vertigo due to the inflammation of the vestibular system. If the patient receives prompt treatment from their physician, they can expect a full recovery within a few weeks, with no lasting or permanent damage to their hearing or balance.
Understanding Ear Anatomy
The ear consists of three sections – the inner, middle, and outer ear.
The outer ear is the visible area and includes the earlobe, auricle, and the ear canal extending to the eardrum.
The middle ear consists of the auditory bones, eardrum, as well as the malleus, incus, and stapes.
The inner ear contains the cochlea, auditory and vestibular nerves.
Diagnosing Inner Ear Infection
Inner ear infections present the most painful symptoms, and the inflammation of the vestibular and auditory nerves lead to problems with balance and hearing. Most people suffering from an inner ear infection experience symptoms of dizziness, nausea, vomiting, or ringing in the eras.
If you notice any of these symptoms along with pain and fever, the chances are that you have an inner ear infection. Make an appointment with your doctor for a diagnosis. Your physician uses an otoscope to look inside your ear and check for swelling or earwax buildup.
The doctor checks the eardrum by blowing on it to check for movement, and a lack of it indicates fluid build-up in the middle ear due to an infection of the inner ear. Your doctor will also provide you with a brief checkup to look for any neurological disorders that could present similar symptoms.
Diagnosing Middle Ear Infection
The majority of ear infections affect the middle ear, also known as the “otitis media.” These infections typically occur due to viral infection of other areas of the body, such as the upper respiratory tract. Developing the flu increases inflammation in the eardrum, creating pressure that leads to pain.
Children are the highest risk group for developing middle ear infections, with symptoms differing slightly from an inner ear infection. Middle ear infections may also cause a discharge that forms a crust around the outer ear. In some cases, the fluid may leak down into the inner ear, causing blockages in the Eustachian tubes.
A reduction in hearing is a common symptom of a middle ear infection as well and may occur alongside sinus issues and a sore throat attributed to an upper-respiratory infection. Vomiting, nausea, and balance issues do not happen with a middle ear infection.
Causes of Ear Infection
Ear infections typically occur due to irritation or blockages in the ear canal. Swimmers or surfers who spend plenty of time in the water may find that the water doesn’t clear from their ears after a session, resulting in the development of a mild middle ear infection.
However, contact with contaminated water can create a nasty ear infection. After a coastal storm contaminated water floods the ocean from local waterways, allowing bacteria and viruses to enter the ear during activities in the water. These harmful pathogens can cause infection of the middle or inner ear.
Other causes of an ear infection include;
• Sinus infections.
• Excess mucus production.
• Smoking cigarettes.
• Swollen adenoids.
• Air pressure changes.
If you notice any signs of an ear infection that don’t dissipate after a few days, then it’s time to see a doctor for a diagnosis and treatment. If your inner ear infection leaves you with some hearing loss, you can use a hearing aid to improve your interpretation of sound.
Home Remedies for Relief from Ear Pain
It’s crucial to note that no home remedy can treat an inner ear infection – you’ll need to visit the doctor.
However, if you have a middle ear or outer ear infection, try the following home remedies to reduce symptoms of pain and inflammation.
• Apply a warm compress to ease the pain.
• Keep your head tilted to the side when sitting to help drain the ear.
• Saltwater gargle may help to clear the Eustachian tubes.
• Do not drink alcohol or smoke.
Other natural remedies effective at clearing a middle ear infection include;
• Tee tree oil or Holy Basil extract oil drops in a diffuser.
• Gargling with apple cider vinegar.
• Hydrogen peroxide rinses.
Over-The-Counter Medication for Ear Infection
Control symptoms of nausea and vomiting by using Benadryl, (diphenhydramine.) For inflammation and pain relief, try using Tylenol or Advil.
It’s vital that you avoid giving children under the age of 12 Aspirin to manage their symptoms. Use of Aspirin in children has links to the development of Reye’s syndrome. If the patient suffers severe dehydration from vomiting, they may need rehydration with IV fluids at the emergency room.
Prescription Drug Treatments
Should you experience a bacterial or viral infection of the middle or inner ear, your doctor will prescribe antibiotics to clear the infection. Depending on the type of bacterium or virus, your physician may prescribe antibiotic eardrops, oral medications, or a combination of both.
Most patients will start to see an improvement in their condition within 24-hours after beginning treatment. If symptoms continue to progress, it may be a sign of a severe underlying problem – and affected individuals should revisit their doctor for a second diagnosis.
Ear Infection Prevention Tips
The best way to avoid catching an ear infection – is to improve your hygiene. Since ear infections are not contagious – but the bacteria and viruses that cause them are transmittable, it’s a prudent strategy to wash your hands regularly. Avoid sharing food and drinks with other people, and avoid smoking – as well as sources of secondhand smoke.
Vaccinate your children against viral and bacterial infection. Children are more prone to disease because their immune system is still developing at this early age. As a result, they catch plenty of infections. Pneumococcal conjugate vaccine and the H. flu vaccine protects your children against unnecessary infection. If you receive permanent hearing loss due to ear infection, consider purchasing hearing aids to help you hear properly.