October 1, 2011
Dr. Christopher Singh
The change of weather from summer to fall marks the beginning of yet another cold and flu season.
Although not as commonly known, this change in weather also signals the beginning of ear infection season.
The most common type of ear infection is called acute otitis media, which simply means an infection of the middle ear.
This is the area of the ear that is located just behind the eardrum. This air-filled space is what houses the tiny vibrating bones of the ear.
An ear infection is usually caused by a virus or bacteria that most often results from a pre-existing illness such as a cold or flu.
However, any illness that causes congestion and swelling of the nasal passages or throat can initiate an ear infection.
Swelling and inflammation of the eustachian tubes, which connect the middle ear to the back of the throat, can also cause ear infections.
The signs and symptoms of ear infections usually appear rapidly. Common symptoms include ear pain, headache, fever, decreased hearing, fluid discharge from the ear and sore throat.
In more serious cases, patients may experience a loss of balance, vomiting and diarrhea.
Ear infections may occur as a result of an underlying more serious medical condition.
Thus, it is important to seek medical attention if the symptoms last for more than a few days or significant discharge from the ear is observed.
Your physician will usually be able to reach a diagnosis based on your medical history and a physical examination.
However, sometimes more sophisticated diagnostic testing is needed to reach or confirm a diagnosis.
Diagnostic tests that measure the movement of the eardrum will give your physician a better idea of how much swelling and pressure is present in the middle ear.
The good news is that most ear infections do not require treatment with antibiotics.
Treatment usually consists of pain control measures.
Eardrops and pain medication are by far the most widely prescribed treatments.
To add to this, placing a warm, moist cloth over the affected ear may help to decrease the pain.
If the ear infection does not respond to conservative treatments, a course of antibiotics will be prescribed to help the body eliminate the infection.
It is important to follow your physician’s directions closely, as failing to do so can lead to recurring infections.
It is very rare for ear infections to cause permanent or long-term complications.
However, frequent or persistent infections may lead to impaired hearing and spread of the infection to other locations of the body.
The prevention of ear infections is really quite simple.
Try to avoid common colds and other illnesses by practicing good personal hygiene.
Frequent and thorough hand washing and avoiding crowded public places are always a good idea during the fall and winter months.
Keep these simple prevention measures in mind and you will be well on your way to preventing an ear infection this season.
Until next month, drive safely!
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