Do you also use an earbud to clean up earwax? Well, this practice is not medically advised as it can lead to ear infections. So, an ear infection occurs when a bacterial or viral infection disrupts the middle ear in some way. Ear infections are more likely to affect children, instead of adults. Generally, ear infections get treated on their own, but require medical attention if it is a chronic ear infection. The symptoms might vary from being mild to advanced, and can be painful too. Ear infections are mostly cleared with the help of antibiotics. However, some ear infections may lead to hearing loss and other complications. To know more about ear infections, Onlymyhealth editorial team spoke to Dr. Anurag Jain, Associate Director and Incharge - ENT, Max Super Speciality Hospital, Patparganj, about the types, symptoms, causes, treatment and prevention tips for ear infections.
Types of ear infection
Ear infections can be both chronic and acute. Chronic infections may last for a long time, while acute ear infections are painful but can get healed even on their own in a very short period of time. Moreover, chronic ear infection can lead to permanent ear damage too. Infections can be classified as per the type of bacteria. According to Dr. Anurag, the major types of ear infection are:
1. Bacterial infections
Bacterial ear infection is mostly caused in the middle ear. This infection mostly comes from other illnesses like cold and flu. The symptoms leading to this type of ear infection may include fever, congestion, persistent cold, etc. Therefore, bacterial ear infection is seen a lot in the public.
2. Viral Infections
Commonly it is the viral infections that are observed more in people. If the viral infections are not treated in time, it can even give rise to secondary infections. Viral infections go away in 2-3 days without any treatment, but might stay for long in very rare cases.
3. Fungal infections
If it is the season of moisture, like the rainy season, there are increased chances of getting fungal infections. Fungal infections can be a problem and may develop on any part of your body. This ear infection occurs outside the ear. In such cases, your ears may become dry, itchy and even smelly.
Ear infection symptoms
The signs of an ear infection are noticeable and quite rapid. It can go from mild to worse very quickly. Appropriate actions or treatment methods have to be done to reduce the infection. The signs are more common in children as compared to adults. As per Dr. Anurag, here are the main ear infection symptoms:
- Usually, there is a discharge of puss
- Decrease in hearing ability
- Ear pain
- In some serious cases, there can be vertigo and dizziness
- Disturbed sleep
- Fluid drainage from the ear
Ear infection causes
From congestion to usage of earbuds, there can be several factors behind ear infections. Parents have to provide special care and attention to their kids as it is more common at a younger age. An ear infection develops when the eustachian tubes get swollen or blocked and it can have severe repercussions. One can take preventive or safety measures to avoid the risk of getting an ear infection. The major causes of ear infection are:
1. Complications of cold or sinus infections
A sinus infection or cold can cause nasal swelling and congestion. It can block the fluid behind your eardrum, that can become a buildup. This may even be painful and put pressure on your ear and nose. A sinus infection can trigger the growth of more bacteria and virus, causing ear infections.
A diabetic patient is always at risk of catching infections. In fact, any infection for such a patient can be very dangerous. If a patient is diabetic or sugar is not controlled then it can even lead to ear infection. They are at higher risk of getting an outer ear infection.
3. Self induced infection
Majority of the cases are self induced. Self induced infection in your ear can also lead to secondary infections. The people should not use earbuds, their fingers or things like keys and pencils to take out earwax from their ears. This can cause ear damage and lead to further infections.
Also read: Ear Inflammation Denotes Otitis Externa
Smoking is injurious for an individual's overall health. It can damage the throat and nasal tissues, making them more prone to any kind on infections. Tobacco can be very harmful for your ear, even leading to ear infections. In very rare cases, smoking has even resulted in hearing loss.
An allergy can cause fluid buildup behind the ear drum. With time, this buildup can lead to ear infections, mostly in the middle ear. An allergic ear infection is similar to a virus or bacteria ear infection. One has to be careful of using any product or before having anything that might trigger an allergy.
Ear infection treatment and prevention tips
One has to visit an ENT specialist after experiencing the symptoms of an ear infection. The diagnosis is done by taking a fluid sample of your ear or by doing a hearing test. Ear drops are provided to relieve the pain in some cases. As per Dr. Anurag, three weeks of antibiotic coverage is good enough to treat ear infections. Here are some ear infection prevention tips:
1. In northern India, there is a social norm of heating oil and putting it in the ear. Public should be educated not to do so as we are harming our ear more by such activities.
2. In all diabetic patients, it should be advised to refrain from traumatizing their ears by putting their hand in them. As Indians, we don't take care of our ears even in an emergency.
3. The ear drum is of same delicacy as the eyes. But, still people can be seen putting anything in the ear that comes in their hand, starting from keys, pencils, pens and they damage their own ear. So, mostly it is a self induced infection.
4. The other tip is that the public should be educated not to use earbuds. Earbud is a western concept. However, here the climatic conditions are totally different. The wax secreted is more in the liquid form, so it is safe in those countries to use ear buds to clean the ear. But, in our country, the wax is more of a dry nature. Therefore, using earbuds pushes the wax further rather than taking it out.
5. Wash your hands regularly. Even personal hygiene is important to stay away from all kind of infections, including ear infection. Avoid putting your hands in the ears and keep them clean for precaution.
These were the types, symptoms, causes, treatment and prevention tips for ear infections. In addition, Dr. Anurag Jain said that, "Ear has a self cleaning mechanism. The nature has provided that. By putting earbuds and other things, you are interfering with that. The wax is a natural secretion. Usually in majority of patients, it will come out on its own. When you are feeling irritation or itching and you use your finger, then some wax will come out and that's the natural process."
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