The human ear has three sections, the outer ear, the middle ear, and the inner ear, out of which the middle and the outer sections are more prone to infections and various other ear problems. Ear infections in adults can be divided into three categories - outer, middle, and inner ear problems. Ear pain, diminished hearing, and pus-like ear drainage are some of the most common symptoms of ear infections. If ear infections are not treated on time, the person might suffer form various health problems, one being permanent loss of hearing. If the symptoms do not disappear within a day, or if the pain is severe, one should consult a doctor immediately.
Outer Ear Problems
Infection or inflammation of the outer ear canal is referred to as otitis externa. It is also known as 'swimmer's ear', because swimmers usually suffer from this type of infection. The contaminated water in the swimming tank leads to ear infection. The infection can spread into the middle ear due to the warm and moist condition of the ear. Even a mild injury to the ear canal, can lead to an infection, inflammation, and pain.
The symptoms include, redness of the ear, pain in the ear while moving or on touching the ear. Drainage of pus from the ear, constant itching inside the ear, and flaking of the skin, are some other symptoms of outer ear infection. Initially, the discharge may be clear. But soon, foul-smelling pus like discharge can be noticed. The person may experience ringing in the ear or pressure in the ear. He may have fever.
Swimmer's ear treatment mainly involves cleaning of the pus by the doctor, and using antibiotic ear drops. To relieve mild ear pain, one may gently place a warm cloth or heating pad on the ear. The doctor may prescribe antibiotics and painkillers along with the drops. Use of ear plugs while swimming can help prevent the infection. You can also blow dry your ear gently after swimming, in order to dry the canal.
Middle Ear Problems
Inflammatory diseases of the middle ear are known as Otitis Media. The two main types are acute otitis media (AOM) and otitis media with effusion (OME). As the name suggests, AOM implies rapid onset of disease. OEM involves occurrence of thick or sticky fluid behind the eardrum (in the middle ear) without any ear infection. Although this infection is common in children (because they have short and narrow Eustachian tubes), even adults might suffer from it. This infection usually takes place in the Eustachian tube, which runs from the ear canal to the back of the throat. Cold, sore throat, fluid or bacteria trapped in the ear, exposure to smoke, allergies, and various other respiratory problems, are the main causes of middle ear infection in adults. The problems usually lead to blockage of the tube, preventing proper ventilation in the middle ear. This leads to accumulation of fluids and bacteria in the middle ear, which eventually results in ear infection. People allergic to a particular type of food can suffer from middle ear infection.
Even after an ear infection has been treated, fluid (an effusion) remains in the middle ear for a few days or weeks. So, OME often follows an episode of AOM. A person with OEM may feel pressure in the ear, pain, vertigo, or ringing in the ear. The condition can lead to hearing loss. In case of middle ear infection, the person may experience severe pain in the ear. Other major symptoms are fever, drainage of pus from the ear, ear stuffiness, loss of balance (in severe cases), hearing loss, nausea, and vomiting. Prompt treatment can help prevent permanent loss of hearing. Other types of otitis media include 'chronic suppurative otitis media' and 'adhesive otitis media.' The former one is a persistent ear infection (experienced for more than two weeks) and it can lead to tearing or perforation of the eardrum. The latter one occurs, when a thin retracted eardrum becomes sucked into the middle-ear space and stuck. All these conditions can cause pain and hearing loss.
Proper and prompt treatment helps prevent health complications such as spread of infection to brain tissues, meningitis, recurrent infection, development of cysts, enlarged adenoid glands, delayed speech, and permanent hearing loss. The treatment involves use of oral antibiotics as well as antibiotic ear drops. Quitting smoking can help prevent middle ear infections in adults. Prompt treatment for allergies, cough, and cold also helps prevent ear infection. In case of chronic infection, one may have to undergo a surgery.
Inner Ear Problems
Like the outer and the middle ear, the inner ear can also get infected. The most common form of the inner ear dysfunction is presbycusis which is age-related hearing loss. Labyrinthitis and vestibular neuritis are the two main disorders resulting from an infection and inflammation of the inner ear. The infection is usually viral. It is bacterial in some rare cases. As the infection leads to the inflammation of the nerves that connect the inner ear to the brain, it disrupts the transmission of sensory information from the ear to the brain. This results in hearing loss and loss of balance. Some kind of trauma can also lead to this condition. Use of certain medicines, chronic exposure to loud noises can also affect inner year function. At times, an infection may spread from the brain to the ear. Allergies, tumors, and insufficient blood supply to certain parts of the brain can result in inner year problems. Autoimmune diseases like rheumatoid arthritis and systemic lupus erythematosus can also adversely affect the inner ear. Meniere's disease is a condition which develops as a result of fluid problems in the inner ear.
Vertigo, dizziness, blurred vision, nausea, sore throat, flu-like symptoms, vomiting, impaired concentration, difficulties with balance, and hearing loss are the symptoms of inner ear infection. Tinnitus and dizziness are the main symptoms of Meniere's disease.
Prescribed medicines can help control nausea and vomiting. They can also suppress dizziness. Depending upon the severity of the condition, the doctor may prescribe steroids like prednisone, antiviral drugs, or antibiotics. If a person is suffering from dehydration due to vomiting, intravenous fluid can be administered. A person with age-related hearing loss will be able to communicate with the help of hearing aids and devices.
Besides these ear problems, earwax or a foreign particles getting stuck in the ear, is also a major cause of worry. It, however, can be removed by the doctor. One should never try to remove it with a sharp instrument, as it might damage the eardrum. Ear drops can help remove the impacted earwax. One should follow the instructions of the doctor seriously, and should see a doctor immediately, if symptoms like earache and ear discharge do not disappear within a day or so. Any delay in treatment can lead to permanent loss of hearing as well as serious health problems.
Disclaimer: The information provided in this article is solely for educating the reader. It is not intended to be a substitute for the advice of a medical expert.