Common Causes of Ear Infections
Ear infections tend to affect small children (six months to two years) the most, but anyone is susceptible to them. Read on to discover the causes, symptoms, and treatments for this common condition.
What Is an Ear Infection?
Called otitis media (OM), the majority of ear infections are located in the middle ear. Most cases are in children under five, but adults can also get them, usually in conjunction with influenza, a cold, or a sinus infection.
A middle ear infection causes pain and can lead to hearing loss in children, which is why it’s important to confirm the diagnosis with a board-certified ENT. Swimmer’s ear, a less common kind of ear infection, affects the ear canal and outer ear and is caused by water getting trapped inside the ear.
What Are the Symptoms of an Ear Infection?
An ear infection usually causes the following symptoms:
- Pain in the ear that is worse when lying down
- Pulling the ear
- Trouble sleeping
- Trouble hearing
- Fever of 100 degrees or greater
- Reduced appetite
- Fluid drainage (more common with swimmer’s ear)
- Prolonged crying or irritability in small children
- Swimmer’s ear causes itchiness and redness in the ear canal
For small children, ear infections sometimes clear up on their own. However, see an ENT if the following symptoms occur:
- Extreme pain
- Symptoms last longer than one day
- Symptoms occur after an upper respiratory infection
- You notice blood, fluid, or green discharge from the ear
What Are the Common Causes of an Ear Infection?
Bacteria or viruses in the middle ear cause OM. Infections are usually secondary to influenza, colds, allergies, or any condition that causes congestion of the nose, throat, or Eustachian tubes. Because Eustachian tubes are more narrow and horizontal in children, children are prone to OM since their tubes can’t drain easily.
Factors contributing to OM include:
- Young age – Children from six months to two years are prone to ear infections.
- Daycare – Children in daycare are exposed to more illnesses that can cause OM.
- Drinking from Baby Bottles – Ear infections are more common for children who lie down to drink from a bottle.
- Allergies – Allergic reactions from high pollen counts and other allergens can cause a secondary ear infection.
- Low Air Quality – OM is linked to exposure to cigarette smoke and other air pollutants.
Bacteria or viruses from contaminated water or soil cause swimmer’s ear when it gets trapped inside the ear canal.
What Are the Treatment Options?
OM is usually treated by prescribing antibiotics if a fever is present. In less severe cases, using a warm compress and taking acetaminophen for pain is effective. In severe cases of recurring OM, an ENT may recommend inserting small tubes into the ears to help them drain and equalize pressure. This surgical procedure gives the patient long-term relief from ear infections.
For swimmer’s ears, a doctor will prescribe antibiotic ear drops or a corticosteroid.
Why Choose Lakeside Allergy ENT?
At Lakeside Allergy ENT, our three board-certified otolaryngologists specialize in diagnosing and treating all conditions of the ears, nose, and throat. We are highly trained in treating middle and outer ear infections. Additionally, we check for hearing loss caused by OM at our Hearing Center located inside our facility.
If you think you or your child may have an ear infection, make an appointment today by calling us at 972-771-5443 or submit the Request an Appointment form on this page.