Ear infections can occur when fluid becomes trapped in the middle ear behind the eardrum. They usually occur during or after a cold, infection or allergic reaction when the immune system is compromised. Ear infections can be acute (painful but short in duration) or chronic (recurring infections or a single infection that does not heal). It is important to treat chronic ear infections because they can cause permanent damage to the middle and inner ear.
Young children are most prone to ear infections because their Eustachian tubes – the tubes that equalize pressure at the back of the nose – are small and narrow. Children often need tubes surgically implanted in their ears to help compensate for Eustachian tubes that are not working well.
Some symptoms of ear infections may include pain and swelling in the ear, ear pressure (similar to what one feels under several feet of water or on an airplane), ear drainage and hearing loss. These symptoms may persist or come and go. One or both ears may become infected.
To diagnose an ear infection, your doctor will examine your or your child’s ears with an otoscope, which has a light and a magnifying lens. They will look for redness, fluid buildup or a swollen or perforated eardrum. These are all signs of an ear infection.
The doctor will determine which treatment method is best based on the severity of the infection.
Cholesteatoma is a growth that occurs in the middle ear. It is not cancerous; however, it can still be dangerous because it may become infected and/or cause permanent hearing loss. Cholesteatoma can erode the bones of the ear, the balance canals and the bone under the brain as the cholesteatoma expands. Common symptoms include ear discharge and hearing loss. Cholesteatoma removal requires minor surgery.
Ear drainage may be a problem in itself, or it can be a symptom of a bigger issue. Ear drainage can be caused by something as benign as earwax buildup, but it can also indicate trauma, an infection or a perforated eardrum. Waxy drainage is usually normal and nothing to worry about; however, bloody or foul-smelling drainage could indicate a serious issue. Contact your doctor right away if you notice unusual drainage from the ear.
Recurrent Ear Infections
Recurrent or chronic ear infections are infections that don’t go away or that continue to come back even after treatment. It is important to treat chronic ear infections because they may cause permanent damage to the middle and inner ear or other complications. Young children are most prone to chronic ear infections because their Eustachian tubes – the tubes that drain ear fluids – are small and narrow. Children often need tubes surgically implanted in their ears to help with drainage that causes infections.