Ear infections are synonymous with childhood; in fact, five out of six children will have at least one ear infection before their third birthday. People of all ages can experience an ear infection. But unlike pediatric ear infections, adult ear infections are often the sign of a more serious health problem.
What Is an Ear Infection?
An ear infection is an inflammation of the middle ear, typically caused by bacteria. Causes, symptoms and treatment vary based on what part of the ear the infection takes places.
Inner Ear Infection
Inflammation of the inner ear can cause dizziness, nausea and vomiting. Unlike the other two types, a diagnosis of an inner ear infection is usually not caused by a typical infection.
Seeking treatment for this condition is important, as it may be the symptom of a more serious condition such as meningitis.
Middle Ear Infection
The space behind your eardrum is known as the middle ear. If fluid becomes trapped in this area, it can lead to a feeling of fullness in the ear and an earache; some report fluid drainage from the ear.
Known as otitis media, this is the most common type of ear infection. Caused by the common cold or other respiratory issue, the middle ear can become inflamed and trap fluid behind the eardrum.
Antibiotics are often prescribed to treat otitis media in the form of a pill or ear drops. Over-the-counter pain medication and anti-inflammatory drugs may also be recommended.
Outer Ear Infection
Otitis externa, more commonly known as swimmer’s ear, often occurs after swimming or bathing. Water can become trapped in the ear, which becomes a breeding ground for bacteria. This type of infection can lead to an itchy, painful, red and swollen ear.
To treat this infection, your doctor will carefully clean the outer ear and apply antimicrobial or anti-inflammatory topical medication to the ear. Antibiotics will be prescribed if needed.
When to Seek Medical Attention
Letting an ear infection go untreated can put you at risk of permanent hearing loss and the infection spreading to other areas.
Experts recommend waiting a few days after your first experience an earache, as the infection can resolve on its own. If the pain does not subside or you develop a fever you should seek medical attention. To learn more about adult ear infections or to schedule an appointment with an ear doctor, contact Eastern Oklahoma ENT today.