Having an ear infection can be stressful, as the pain is intense and often happens without warning. Most common ear infections are harmless, but there are some ear infections that can affect your sense of balance and even cause hearing loss. Ear discomfort can sometimes be caused by a buildup of earwax, but if you’re concerned about any ear pain or discomfort it is good practice to get your ears checked.
What is an Ear Infection?
An ear infection can be caused by either bacteria or viruses, and can occur in the outer ear (the visible ear and ear canal), middle ear (behind the ear drum), or the inner ear where the balance and hearing organs are located. Ear infections can also be caused by nasal congestion from common colds or flu.
Types of Ear Infections
The most common types of ear infections are:
- Middle Ear Infection - A middle ear infection, sometimes called otitis media, happens when a virus or bacteria cause the area behind the eardrum to become inflamed and causes a build up of fluid. This type of ear infection is common in children but can occur at any age. It usually results in a decrease in hearing for the duration of the ear infection but doesn’t always result in pain or discomfort.
- Labyrinthitis - Labyrinthitis is an inner ear disorder that occurs when the two vestibular nerves in your inner ear are inflamed. These nerves help to control your balance, and when inflamed can cause dizziness, nausea and loss of hearing.
- Swimmer’s Ear (Outer Ear Infection) - Also known as otitis externa, this can occur after prolonged exposure to moisture (sometimes called Swimmer’s Ear) or after a scratch or skin condition allows bacteria to enter the skin in the ear canal and outer ear.
- Chronic Ear Infection - Sometimes known as recurring acute otitis media, a chronic ear infection is an ear infection that doesn’t heal or regularly returns. This infection usually affects the space behind the eardrum (the middle ear) but chronic outer ear infections can also occur
Signs and Symptoms of an Ear Infection
Ear infections can come on suddenly, and are usually (but not always) accompanied by a change in hearing and some discomfort in the affected ear. Other signs could be:
- Pain or dull ache in ear
- Fever or headache
- Hearing loss or difficulty hearing
- Ears feeling blocked or full
- Loss of balance
- Nausea or vomiting
Preventing an Ear Infection
You cannot always prevent ear infections, but there are a few things which may be helpful, particularly if you have had ear infections in the past:
- Avoid using cotton wool buds or sticking your fingers in your ears
- Use ear plugs or a swimming cap pulled over the ears when you swim
- Actively treat any conditions affecting your ears, such as eczema or, psoriasis
- Try to avoid water or shampoo getting into your ears when you have a shower or a bath
How to Treat an Ear Infection at Home
If you believe you have an ear infection, contact your GP to have this investigated to ensure you receive appropriate treatment. You may also need to arrange a hearing test at your local Bay Audiology clinic if you are experiencing hearing loss.
Following the advice of your GP, you can do the following to help relieve the discomfort associated with an ear infection:
- Take painkillers such as paracetamol or ibuprofen to dull the pain
- Place a warm or cold compress on the ear
- Remove any discharge by wiping the outer ear gently with a clean cloth or cotton wool. Do not use earbuds as this may aggravate and spread any infection.
- Visit your local pharmacy and pick up some ear drops to stop the infection from spreading.