what causes ear infection ?
Infection of the middle ear, or otitis media, is an infection of the part of the ear behind the eardrum. It is usually a complication of an upper respiratory infection, such as a cold. It can be acute (new), chronic (persistent), or serious (associated with fluid that does not contain germs). Otitis media is more common in young children because the tube that connects the middle ear to the nasal passages is very short and straight, making it easy for bacteria in the mouth and nasal passages to reach the inner ear. Most ear infections are caused by bacteria
Ear infections are usually divided into those which occur in the ear canal (otitis externa) and those which occur in the small space behind the eardrum (the middle ear). You may hear an infection of the middle ear referred to as 'acute otitis media'. This article deals with infections of the middle ear. There is a separate leaflet called otitis externa.
How does an ear infection occur?
The small space behind the eardrum in the middle ear is normally filled with air. It is connected to the back of the throat by a tiny channel called the Eustachian tube. The middle ear space sometimes becomes filled with mucus (fluid), often during a cold. The mucus may then become infected by germs (bacteria or viruses). Children with glue ear who have mucus behind their eardrum are more prone to ear infections. Sometimes an ear infection occurs 'out of the blue' for no apparent reason.
What are the symptoms of an ear infection?
Earache is common but does not always occur. Dulled hearing may develop for a few days. High temperature (fever) is common. Children may feel sick or vomit and can be generally unwell. Young babies cannot point to their pain. One of the causes of a hot, irritable, crying baby is an ear infection. Sometimes the eardrum bursts (perforates). This lets out infected mucus and the ear becomes runny for a few days. As the pain of earache is due to a tense eardrum, a burst eardrum often relieves the pain. A perforated eardrum usually heals within a few weeks after the infection clears
What is the treatment for an ear infection?
Most bouts of ear infection will clear on their own without treatment within 2-3 days. The immune system can
usually clear germs (bacteria or viruses) that cause ear infections. However, treatments that may be advised
include the following
Painkillers If the ear infection is causing pain, then give painkillers to children regularly until the pain eases. For example, paracetamol (Calpol®, Disprol®, etc) or ibuprofen. These medicines will also lower a raised temperature which can make a child feel better. If antibiotics are prescribed (see below), you should still give the painkiller as well until the pain eases. Recent research studies have found that a few drops of a local anaesthetic medication (lidocaine) placed into the ear may help to ease pain. Further studies are needed to clarify the use of this treatment. However, it seems logical and may become more widely used over time, especially in children with severe ear pain.