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Children and youngsters often complain about earache, especially when they are down with cold and fever. This happens because of ear infection. Ear infections are less common in adults, but they do happen. Middle ear infection occurs when bacteria or virus is trapped in air-filled space of the ear and leads to inflammation of eardrum. It happens usually during winters or early spring. Middle ear infection is painful because of the inflammation and fluid build-up in the middle ear.
Often middle ear infections do not need any treatment but if the pain persists and becomes unbearable, then medication becomes necessary. In case of fever, it is recommended to visit a doctor.
Types of Middle Ear Infection
1. AOM (Acute Otitis Media)
AOM causes ear pain, fever, and sometimes even hearing impairment. It is accompanied by redness and swelling behind the eardrum and fluid or mucus is trapped inside the middle ear.
2. OME (Otitis Media with Effusion)
Sometimes the fluid or mucous keep building up inside the middle ear even after the infection is gone. This build-up of mucus eventually affects hearing ability.
Symptoms of Middle Ear Infection
Mostly the signs and symptoms of a middle ear infection are the same in children as well as adults. But since the ears of children are more delicate, the number of common symptoms are more.
Symptoms in children:
- Ear pain
- Frequent pulling at an ear
- Difficulty in sleeping
- Loss of appetite
- Lesser response to sounds
- Acting unusually irritable
- Fever and frequent crying
- Loss of balance
- Fluid drainage from the ear
Symptoms in adults:
- Hearing impairment
- Drainage of fluid from the ear
- Nausea and vomiting
Causes of Middle Ear Infection
Middle ear infection is caused by varying reasons. It often spreads from prior infections in the respiratory tract like flu, cold or congestion. These often result in swelling and congestion in the nasal passage, throat and eustachian tubes. Inflammation, mucus and swelling of the eustachian tubes can lead to accumulation of fluids in the middle ear as these tubes run from the middle ear to the back of the throat. Bacteria often grows in this fluid which causes pain and infection.
If the symptoms of a middle ear infection last for more than 2 days and the ear pain becomes unbearable, or in case of fluid discharge, professional medical help is recommended.
Treatment of Middle Ear Infection
There are a number of ways to treat a middle ear infection. It depends on factors like age, medical history, the severity of infection and current health condition. The common treatment is pain killers and antibiotics. There are some home remedies too to fight the infection quickly.
1. Pain killers
If a virus or bacteria is causing middle ear infection, painkillers are the easy way out. Typically, a doctor may prescribe acetaminophen or ibuprofen which will also help with the fever. Usually, aspirin is avoided since it may cause complications. A heating pad on low heat can also help relieve the pain.
If your symptoms have lasted for more than 3 days, then antibiotics are generally prescribed. Following the recommended dosage prevents relapses and helps with future treatments. If by any chance a dose is missed or feel sick from your medication, contact your doctor immediately.
3. Drainage of fluid
In case of relapse or stagnation of fluid, a myringotomy is often performed. A small hole in the eardrum allows pus or fluid to drain out. The doctor inserts a tube in the eardrum so that the fluid does not back up. This tube usually falls out on its own within 6 to 18 months. The tube keeps the air flow through the middle ear running so that the ear remains dry. It also helps in pain relief and hearing impairment.
Home Remedies for Middle Ear Infection Treatment
Along with procedures and medication, there are things you can do at home for treating the middle ear infection. Before executing these tips, be sure to discuss with your doctor.
Heat: As mentioned above, you can use low heat from the heating pad to help with the pain.
Gargle : In case of flu or throat infection, gargling with salt water smoothens a raw throat and helps to clear up the Eustachian tubes. This will reduce the infection in the middle ear.
Erect head: Keeping your head erect will drain the fluid out of the middle ear.
Fresh air: Avoid active or passive smoking in closed areas. Fresh air helps in relieving the infection.
Sometimes,the doctor recommends watchful observation because of existing health conditions. In the interim, you can turn to alternative therapies to ease your discomfort. Research shows that these therapies have proven to be helpful to a lot of people.
Probiotics are the good bacteria needed in our body to fight illness. Certain good bacteria can help prevent middle ear infection. These probiotics are available as a nasal spray as well as oral intake. Probiotics have proven to be safe.
Xylitol is a natural sweetener found in chewing gum and many fruits. It can prevent inner ear infections. But for it to be effective, Xylitol needs to be taken in high dosages which can cause side effects like diarrhea and abdominal pain.
For treating middle ear infection, homeopathy uses highly diluted preparations of natural substances like minerals and plants. Medical researchers have mixed results on these preparations. Many such products are not monitored closely and there is no clear indication of whether they work properly in treating infection or not.
Chiropractic treatment means alignment of the skeleton so that the body goes back to natural shape. Chiropractors claim that certain manipulations in the body can treat infections and even prevent ear infections in the future. But no long term studies or extensive research have been carried out to prove this theory.
Other alternative treatments include acupuncture and herbal eardrops.
Persistent infection flare-ups can cause severe complications. It is normal to suffer from mild hearing loss during the infection. But hearing returns to normal once the infection clears up. However, persistent infection and fluid build-up can permanently damage the eardrum. Untreated infection for a long time can spread the infection to other body parts and can cause pus-filled cysts and damage the bone behind the ear.
Preventing Middle Ear Infection
Though quick treatments are available in medical science easily, it is better to prevent ear infections altogether. There are several measures that can be taken to prevent middle ear infection like avoiding second-hand smoke.
- When not at home, stay in a smoke-free environment.
- In seasons like winter and early spring, avoid getting cold or any other illness.
- Stay away from infected people and wash your hands vigorously.
A small preventive measure on your end can save a lot of pain and medical costs.