If a persistent earache has been disrupting your daily activities, an ear infection may be to blame. Knowing the signs of a middle ear infection and the proper earache remedies can help you relieve discomfort and prevent spreading the infection to others. Here are five commonly asked questions and answers about ear infections to help you stay informed.
1. What is an Ear Infection?
Scientifically known as acute otitis media, ear infections occur when a throat infection, cold, or allergies cause fluid to become trapped inside the middle ear. Children are much more likely to experience an ear infection, though adults can be affected as well. Ear infections can affect either the middle ear or the ear canal (otitis externa,(AOE)), and they may or may not produce pain. There are several types of ear infections:
- Otitis Media with Effusion (OME): This occurs when fluid becomes trapped in the middle ear, but there are no other ear infection symptoms present.
- Acute Otitis Media (AOM): This type of ear infection is often caused by bacteria, but viruses can cause the condition as well.
2. What Causes an Ear Infection?
There are multiple causes of ear infections, including:
A common strain of bacteria, streptococcus pneumoniae, often causes ear infections. To prevent the spread of these bacteria, ensure that your child is up to date on vaccinations, especially the pneumococcal vaccination.
After a person experiences a cold or the flu, he or she is especially vulnerable to infection. Both the common cold and flu virus can lead to a buildup of fluid in the ear, causing bacteria to grow. The best way to avoid virus-related ear infections this flu season is to ensure that you and your children are vaccinated.
When foreign objects like bobby pins and cotton swabs enter the ear, they can cause micro tears and bruises in the ear canal. Sometimes, this results in a case of otitis externa. Avoid cleaning your ears using these items.
If you smoke or are often exposed to secondhand smoke, you may be at an increased risk of ear infections because the smoke causes inflammation in the nose and sinuses and that can block the fluid outflow from the middle ear.
Chronic ear infections often run in families. However, taking precautions like staying vaccinated and avoiding cigarettes can reduce your risk.
3. What Are the Ear Infection Symptoms?
In adults, the signs of ear infection often include the following:
- Earache, which can be sharp and sudden or a dull, constant pain
- Sharp, stabbing pain with drainage that follows
- A feeling of pressure and fullness inside the ear
- Reduced hearing ability
In children, some common ear infection symptoms are:
- Touching or tugging the ear
- Problems sleeping
- Drainage from the ear
- Decreased appetite
- Crying when going to bed at night
4. When Should You Seek Ear Infection Treatment?
If you’ve maintained a consistent fever (over 100.4º F), it may be time to seek medical care from your nearest FastMed Urgent Care clinic. Those who frequently experience ear infections should also see a medical provider to rule out other issues and protect against hearing loss.
Young children who display the signs of ear infection should see a medical expert for treatment. However, if your child develops a stiff neck or becomes unresponsive, seek emergency care immediately.
5. What Are the Options for Ear Infection Treatment?
When choosing the right ear infection remedies, your medical provider will first determine the type of infection present. Typically, antibiotic ear drops are used to treat AOE, while OME usually goes away on its own without medication. If you’re diagnosed with AOM, your doctor may recommend antibiotics as part of your ear infection treatment; however, many healthy patients are able to fight off the infection without medication. Sometimes, the provider will recommend watchful waiting and home ear infection remedies to see if your immune system can fight off the infection.
However, a mild middle ear infection can sometimes be treated at home. Home earache remedies include taking over-the-counter pain medications to relieve discomfort. Staying hydrated to promote fluid drainage and using warm compresses against the face also can be helpful.
While it may be tempting to wait and see if the condition goes away on its own, severe symptoms should not be ignored. If you or your child is running a high fever (over 102.2º F) or are experiencing a severe earache or hearing problems, visit your local FastMed Urgent Care center for treatment.
FastMed Urgent Care owns and operates over 100 clinics in North Carolina, Arizona and Texas that provide a broad range of acute/episodic and preventive healthcare services 365 days a year. FastMed also provides workers’ compensation and other occupational health services at all its clinics, and family and sports medicine services at select locations. FastMed has successfully treated more than six million patients and is the only independent urgent care operator in North Carolina, Arizona and Texas to be awarded The Joint Commission’s Gold Seal of Approval® for quality, safety and infection control in ambulatory healthcare. For more information about locations, services, hours of operation, insurance and prices, visit www.fastmed.com.