Ear infections: Warning signs and treatment options
When your ear starts to hurt, there may be a number of causes. But one possible cause is a dreaded ear infection. Ear infections occur when the middle ear becomes inflamed due to fluid buildup behind the eardrum. This painful condition is most common in children between the ages of six months and two years -- in fact, five out of six children will get at least one ear infection before they turn three. But because ear infections can occur at any age, let's explore a few important things to know about them.
Types of Ear Infections
There are three main types of ear infections. The first is the most common type, acute otitis media (AOM). This type of ear infection occurs when fluid becomes trapped behind the eardrum and parts of the middle ear swell up. Due to the swelling and inflammation, AOM causes ear pain and sometimes even a fever. The second is otitis media with effusion (OME). This type of ear infection may not show any symptoms, but rather a doctor can see fluid still trapped behind the eardrum after an ear infection has passed. And the third is chronic otitis media with effusion (COME). Like OME, this condition occurs when fluid stays trapped behind the eardrum. But with COME, the fluid stays in the middle ear for long periods of time or returns consistently. Because of the prolonged presence of fluid, COME can impact hearing abilities.
Symptoms & Treatment
Fortunately, most ear infections are fairly easy to spot. In infants or children, you may notice excessive crying, tugging or pulling at the ears, and difficulty sleeping. Other symptoms of ear infections include fluid leaking from the ears, poor balance and impaired hearing. To treat ear infections, a doctor may prescribe antibiotics. However, this is only beneficial if the ear infection is caused by bacteria rather than a virus. For persistent ear infections, a surgical procedure may be necessary. A small ventilation tube will be placed in the eardrum to help drain fluid and will stay in for six to nine months until it falls out.
All in all, ear infections can be painful and uncomfortable, but they're not usually serious. With the right diagnosis and treatment, ear infections can be cleared up in no time.