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Health > Ear Infections

Ear Infections


Otitis Media

This problem is commonly known as an ear infection and is one of the most common cause of earaches. It can occur in both children and adults (although children are the most common). Otitis media occurs when virus or bacteria enter the Eustachian tube that connects the middle ear with the back of the throat. It is common therefore in people who are experiencing cold or flu symptoms. Middle ear infections are usually very painful as the area is so small that the pus/infection cannot escape. The ear drum becomes red, sore and starts to bulge outwards. If the infection is severe enough, the drum can actually burst. In most cases however, the drum heals itself and the hearing is not affected. There have been cases that deafness has been the result, therefore it is a condition that must be attended to by your health practitioner. It is one of the most common reasons for visits to doctors.

What to look for…

In children:

  • Children will often tug at the ear.
  • Fever.
  • Irritability, restlessness.
  • Crying at night when lying down.
  • Nasal discharge.
  • Suppressed appetite.


In adults:

  • Earache and/or a full feeling in the ear.
  • Fever and chills.
  • Nasal congestion.
  • Nausea and diarrhoea accompanying earache.
  • Hearing becomes muffled.

Cause

Without a doubt, the most common cause of this problem is an upper respiratory viral infection. In addition to viral infections, allergies, smoke, fumes and environmental toxins can cause ear infections.
Cells in the middle ear create a fluid that helps defend against attacking organisms. In most cases, the fluid drains out through the Eustachian tube and into the throat. But when the Eustachian tube becomes swollen (as in the case of ear infections), the fluid can become trapped in the middle ear, causing the area to become inflamed and infected. Unfortunately, the tube is more horizontal and shorter in children, and tends to place them in a more vulnerable position to infection of this type.

Bacteria can also cause otitis media. This can occur as a direct result of the invading bacteria or more commonly when these organisms appear as a result of a viral infection or allergy.

Otitis media can be mild (acute) and be an isolated case or it may recur as often as 3 - 6 times in six months (recurrent). If it continues for weeks without clearing up, it is called chronic otitis media.

Traditional Treatment

Doctors will normally attempt to rid the middle ear of infection in order to prevent more serious problems.
Treatment usually consists of eliminating the causes of otitis media, killing any bacteria, boosting the immune system and reducing swelling in the tubes. Usually doctors can only treat the symptoms.

If the otitis media develops serious complications, doctors may suggest surgery to rid the ear of infection or to drain the middle ear.

Remedies you can do at home

  • There are many things you can do for your infected ear at home (don't avoid going to the doctor first). A warm compress often helps calm the discomfort. Aromatherapy steam inhalations may also help. (be careful to cover up your eyes and do not make the inhalation to strong).
  • Gargling with salt water or other commercial gargles may help soothe a sore throat and clear the Eustachian tubes.
  • Holding your head upright can help drain your middle ear.

Prevention

Because bottle-fed babies are more likely to get otitis media, it is better to breast-feed your infant, if possible, to prevent ear infections. (If you must bottle-feed, never lay your baby down and prop the bottle up). Also, remove as many potential allergens from your home as you can, including dust, cleaning fluid and solvents, and tobacco smoke.

When to Seek Further Professional Advice

  • Body temperature rises above normal - this can indicate infection starting.
  • You or your child frequently develops otitis media.
  • You or your child has hearing problems.
  • You suspect that your young child has otitis media.
  • You or your child have the symptoms mentioned above.

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