Ear Infections: A Variety of Causes and Consequences
Besides being quite common, ear infections can have a variety of causes: viral, bacterial and fungal. They can also affect different parts of the ear, including the outer ear (such as what’s commonly known as “swimmer’s ear”), the middle ear and the inner ear.
Ear infections can develop easily.
An outer ear infection can be caused by something as simple as scratching the ear canal while cleaning it, especially if a cotton-tipped applicator—or a dangerously sharp small object, such as a hair clip—is used. In other cases, an outer ear infection can develop as a result of pus from a middle ear infection draining into the ear canal through a hole in the eardrum.
Infections of the ear can cause pain…or worse.
An ear infection can be either acute—developing quickly and of short duration—or chronic. Either can be painful, due to inflammation or as a result of pressure from fluid buildup in the middle ear. A common cause of ear infections is swelling or blockage of the Eustachian tube, a small tube that allows fluid to drain from the middle ear to the throat. Allergies, colds and smoking can cause these tubes to become blocked, which causes fluid to build up. Infections that occur (and recur) frequently or never clear up are chronic, and they can cause permanent damage to the structures of the middle and inner ear.
Know the symptoms of ear infection.
Ear pain is a common symptom of ear infection, but it isn’t the only one. Sometimes, pain or discomfort may come later, if at all. To protect your or your loved one’s hearing (and development, if he or she is a child), it’s important to be watchful for these signs and symptoms:
- Mild to severe pain
- Tugging at the ears (a response to pain for infants and toddlers)
- Drainage from the ear – can be thick, yellow, or bloody
- Trouble sleeping
- Hearing loss
- Balance problems
- Feeling of pressure inside the ear
How ear infections are diagnosed and treated.
If you are experiencing any of these symptoms, come in to see your Urgent Care provider any day of the week. Also come in if you’ve been self-treating your symptoms and it has proven ineffective. Your Urgent Care provider will examine your ears with special instruments that measure fluid buildup and test the movement of the eardrum. Depending on the type and severity of your ear infection, the provider will prescribe the appropriate type and dose of medication to provide fast relief.