Chronic Ear Infections

Ear infections (otitis media) can occur in adults, but are more common in infants or children. This is usually what causes infants to cry and moan with distress. It is typical for the middle or inner ear to become infected when a person has a cold or flu. As a secondary infection of the Eustachian tube which connects the upper tract of the respiratory system to the sinuses, ear infections will often result from upper respiratory infections due to travelling pathogens. Bacteria or viruses will infect the respiratory tract and then travel to the middle ear, sometimes even causing chronic ear infections.

Why Do Your Ear Infections Become Chronic?

Fluids inside the middle ear can get trapped when travelling through the Eustachian tube on its normal route to the back of the throat. The result is a swelling of the middle to inner ear. This is of high concern, as the infection can cause lasting damage to the ear.

Your ear infection may become chronic due to the following reasons:

  • You keep scratching or poking your ears, damaging the skin in your ear canal.
  • You are not using your ear drops correctly by letting the drops out too quickly.
  • Your ear is infected with resistant bacteria. If this is the case, ask your doctor for a different ear drop.
  • You have allergic reactions to ear drops, causing even more itch and discharge.

Chronic ear infections will usually last at least 3 months and this can be damaging due to swelling behind the eardrum. A buildup of fluid can also rupture and end up draining to other areas of the head.

Chronic Ear Infection Signs

Certain signs indicate the presence of ear infections of a chronic nature. Symptoms can be transient in nature, so you may not always be aware of what is going on. The symptoms of a chronic ear infection can include:

  • Pressure sensations in the ear
  • Pain in the ear
  • Ears producing fluid discharge
  • Transient or low-grade fever
  • Obstruction of ability to hear
  • Insomnia
  • Confusion
  • Swelling behind ear
  • Balance problems
  • Facial weakness
  • Lasting deep ear pain
  • Persistant headache

Babies will become extremely restless under these circumstances and they will grab their ears and pull. This is a clear indication that they are possibly experiencing an ear infection. It is best, at this stage, to consult a pediatrician. Sometimes teething is the cause, so don't try to diagnose it yourself.

When to Consult a Physician

Understand that it is important to treat an ear infection, as they may become chronic ear infections quite easily. Symptoms typically include fever, pain, and difficulty with hearing problems such as reduced hearing or ringing in the ears. Ask your doctor about any of the following, especially for child:

  • Previous diagnosis of an ear infection which is unresponsive to treatment like antibiotics
  • There is an existing diagnosis and worsening of symptoms occur or new symptoms arise
  • When a child has repeated symptoms of ear infection

Treatment of Chronic Ear Infections

1. Home Remedies

When you or your child has a chronic ear infection, treatment by a physician will be necessary. Still, there are remedies you can apply at home:

  • You can use ear drops for numbing the infection, but ask a pharmacist first
  • Use a warm or cold cloth compress at the area of pain
  • Over-the-counter painkillers can help
  • Avoid scratching or poking your ears
  • Do not let shampoo or soap to get into the ears
  • Keep your ear dry

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2. Initial Treatments

Usually, it is simple to treat ear infections with medication such as corticosteroids and antibiotics. Sometimes ventilation tubes need to be placed in the ear, but this is more typical with children. As long as the ear fluid drains properly, chronic ear infections can be avoided. Children will often get repeated infections in this area of the body and ventilation tubes placed in the Eustachian tubes will be necessary until these vital drainage tissues become fully mature.

3. Medications

For severe infections, intravenous antibiotics may be necessary. This does require a hospital stay or managed home care. The goal is to avoid perforation of the eardrum, which could damage hearing. Otherwise, antibiotics both orally and as ear drops will usually be prescribed particularly in the case of perforation.

4. Surgery

Sometimes surgery will be necessary for these infections when they are chronic. This is done when the infection is under control. Surgery is implemented with three specific goals:

  • To get rid of chronic infection
  • To preserve hearing
  • To restructure the bones around the middle ear to improve drainage and halt relapse

There can be two phases to the surgery, but the aim is to restructure the mastoid bone. Procedures involved go by the names of tympanomastoidectomy, tympanoplasty, and mastoidectomy. All of these procedures will aim to take away infected tissues and bone to prevent the recurrence of the infection. Many of these miraculous acts of surgical medicine can be performed on an outpatient basis. Bones which conduct sound are involved, so these are sensitive procedures which use a restructuring of these bones to achieve a lasting effect.

Preventing Chronic Ear Infections

Whether it is you or your child experiencing the chronic ear infections, there are solutions. Prevention is the initial step. You can discuss prevention of ear infections with your physician. Since children are at a higher risk, it will be important to find prevention solutions with the pediatrician. Treating any existing ear infection will help reduce the risk of chronic infection.

Also, consider vaccinations for pneumonia and the flu. Many ear infections are caused primarily by these conditions. You will also want to ask a doctor about these vaccinations if you are at risk for any reason. Sometimes medications can compromise your immunity and increase the risk of chronic ear infections for you or your child. You may also consult the CDC to provide you with more information about serious conditions like meningitis. 50% of ear infections are caused by this condition or pneumonia and both could be dangerous or even life threatening.

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