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INTRODUCTION

Earaches tend to be more common in childhood but can affect all ages. Sometimes an ear infection may start seemingly out of the blue and it’s not always possible to prevent them, but an understanding of what causes ear infections and steps we can take to protect our ears can help reduce your chances of getting an ear infection or suffering complications from one.

The ear is made up of three main parts: the outer ear, the middle ear, and the inner ear. We will be focussing on how to protect the two parts that are most commonly affected by ear infections – the outer ear and the middle ear.

OUTER EAR INFECTIONS

The outer ear is the part that we can see on the outside (the pinna) plus the ear canal. The technical term for an outer ear infection is Otitis Externa. Some people call it swimmer’s ear as outer ear infections are commonly caused by water that has remained in the ear after swimming or bathing. The moisture can become a breeding ground for fungi or bacteria.

Outer ear infections may also occur if the ear is scratched or irritated and bacteria is introduced by putting your fingers or foreign objects into the ear.

Common symptoms of an outer ear infection include itchiness, pain, tenderness, redness and swelling. Sometimes there may be a smelly discharge.

HOW CAN WE PROTECT OUR EARS FROM OUTER EAR INFECTIONS?

You can protect your or your child’s outer ears with these tips:

–          Don’t forget to wash your ears to protect against bacteria or fungi being introduced into the ear canal.

–          Make sure to dry your ears after swimming or showering to protect the ear from a moist breeding ground for infection. If you have very narrow ear canals that don’t dry easily then you may wish to further protect your ears from moisture by wearing earplugs while swimming.

–          Avoid putting foreign objects into the ear to protect your ear from any scratches or irritation and protect against introducing pathogens into the ear canal.

MIDDLE EAR INFECTIONS

The middle ear is the air-filled space between the eardrum and the oval window of the inner ear. It contains three tiny bones called ossicles, which vibrate along with the eardrum to transmit sound to the inner ear. The middle ear is connected to the nasal cavity and back of the throat with the Eustachian tube, which helps protect the middle ear by keeping the air pressure in the middle ear the same as the air outside the body.

Middle ear infections often occur due to a cold or other upper respiratory tract issue spreading to the ear and causing a build-up of fluid in the middle ear space, which may be unable to drain through the Eustachian tube if it is blocked by congestion and swelling in the nasal passages and throat. The technical term for a middle ear infection is Otitis Media. Some people refer to it as glue ear.

Otitis Media with Effusion (OME) refers to a middle ear fluid build-up without symptoms of infection such as pain, discharge, or fever. This may be due to fluid and mucous continuing to build up after an initial infection has subsided. The ears may feel blocked and hearing may be reduced or muffled due to the fluid blocking the eardrum from moving properly.

Acute Otitis Media (AOM) refers to an abrupt middle ear fluid build-up as a result of a bacterial or viral infection. Symptoms may include eardrum redness, swelling, earaches, fever and reduced hearing. The eardrum may also perforate and lead to discharge from the ear.

Children are more prone to middle ear issues because their Eustachian tubes are shorter and flatter compared to an adult’s, which tends to slope down more and be more effective for drainage.

HOW CAN WE PROTECT OUR EARS FROM MIDDLE EAR INFECTIONS?

Some people are more prone to middle ear infections than others due to their anatomy or other predisposing factors, and prevention may involve seeing an Ear Nose and Throat specialist for individualised care. The following are some general tips that can help protect your or your child’s ears from middle ear infections:

–          Middle ear infections are often caused by bacteria such as Streptococcus pneumoniae or viruses such as influenza, so make sure you are up to date on vaccinations to protect yourself as much as possible, including the pneumococcal vaccine and the annual flu shot.

–          Wash your hands with soap and water regularly to protect against bacteria and viruses.

–          Try to avoid coming into contact with people who are sick with colds or other upper respiratory tract infections.

–          Avoid smoking or exposure to second-hand smoke to protect yourself against upper respiratory tract issues caused by cigarette smoke.

–          Stay on top of managing any allergies to protect yourself against congestion and other respiratory issues. Avoid triggers where possible and keep any allergy medications up to date.

EXTRA TIPS TO PROTECT BABIES:

–          Breastfeeding exclusively until a baby is 6 months old and continuing breastfeeding until 12 months can protect babies from all kinds of infections, including middle ear infections.

–          Be mindful with bottles and pacifiers as their use while laying down can increase the chance of getting middle ear infections. The use of pacifiers beyond 12 months of age also increases the risk of middle ear infections.

–          Daycare centres can, unfortunately, expose babies and children to a lot of germs. Make sure vaccinations are up to date and protect them where possible by cleaning their hands with soap and water and trying to keep dirty objects from going into their mouths.

WHEN TO SEE YOUR DOCTOR

If the only symptom has been an earache then it could be given a day or two before seeking medical advice, as some ear infections resolve on their own after a few days. It is important though to book in to see the doctor for their help to protect your ears if the earache persists if running a fever, if there is a discharge of blood or pus from the ear, or if your hearing is affected.

Appropriate treatment of outer and middle ear infections will protect your ears from complications. If there appears to be a recurrent or chronic issue, then referral to an Ear Nose and Throat (ENT) specialist might be worthwhile to investigate why the issue is not resolving and which extra measures may be necessary to protect your ears and hearing. If ear infections are not treated appropriately then there may be a risk of permanent injury to the ear or hearing, as well as the risk of the infection spreading to other parts of the head.

Often a hearing assessment by an audiologist may also be recommended as part of your doctor’s investigation process. These assessments will look at the function of each part of the ear to determine how well it is functioning and to rule out certain issues, which helps your doctor to determine the best management options to protect your ears.

SUMMARY

Hopefully, some of these general tips will help to protect your or your child’s ears from a painful ear infection. Your doctor would recommend additional measures based on the specific issue, so seeking medical advice is the best way to protect your ears if an earache persists or if you have any other symptoms.

If you would like to get an idea of whether past ear infections have done any permanent harm to your ears, it would be worth booking in to see a qualified audiologist at Attune Hearing for a comprehensive hearing assessment to check the function of the ear. This would also give you a hearing baseline for future comparisons, which is helpful to your doctor and audiologist if any future ear infections or changes occur. Contact Attune Hearing on 1300 736 702 or book an appointment online today.

Published at: Recent Health Articleshttp://recenthealtharticles.org

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