A middle ear infection (otitis media) or outer ear infection (otitis externa) is caused by bacteria, viruses or fungi.
The bacteria responsible for these infections are primarily streptococci, staphylococci, pneumococci, Moraxella catarrhalis and Haemophilus influenzae. The latter pathogen is extremely rare since national vaccinations have been performed against the bacteria.
Otitis media (middle ear infection) is a very common affliction among children under the age of 3
Otitis media results from a bacterial infection that brings pain, fever, a bulging eardrum and sometimes even damages your hearing. Almost every child will suffer from it at some stage, with over 50% of children under the age of 1 and 83% of children under the age of 3 getting a middle ear infection.
When children have earache (either due to middle ear infection or because of a cold), it can be very painful but not dangerous. It should clear up within 3 days. Children should drink a lot of liquids and might be prescribed paracetamol or nose drops. If the earache persists for more than 2 days, a doctor should be consulted.
Middle ear infection: the difference between an acute middle ear infection and a chronic middle ear infection
When you suffer from an acute middle ear infection you will mostly start to feel restless and irritable the day before. You will experience pain in your ear or in the area beneath it, and may also develop a fever. Cold winds, drafts, swimming/water in your ear (from swimming or bathing) can often cause earache.
If your ear infection recurs repeatedly this is known as a chronic middle ear infection. In some countries people have made a connection between vaccinations and chronic ear infections, as healthy children often develop a middle ear infection immediately after receiving a cocktail of vaccinations. Some children also get a middle ear infection every 2 to 3 months
Treating middle ear infections (otitis media)
In 85% of cases the affliction will be spontaneously cured, but unfortunately antibiotics are still prescribed all too frequently. There is no evidence whatsoever that the systematic prescription of antibiotics will be effective for every acute middle ear infection.
A doctor or ENT specialist generally prescribes antibiotics and the pain disappears within 5 days. It is important that you realise that this does not cure your ear, but suppresses the infection. The next time that your natural resistance is somewhat reduced, the infection will arise once again.
External ear infection (otitis externa) primarily strikes adults but children can get it too
An external ear infection is most common in a warm climate and during the summer months, as people tend to spend more time in the water. Men and women are equally likely to suffer from it.
Otitis externa is an inflammation of the skin in the auditory canal caused by bacteria or fungi and it results in pain, itchiness, scaling, redness or swelling, as well as the possible loss of hearing. In adults the auditory canal is infected by a bacteria or fungus.
While earwax protects your ears, it is less effective in moist environments such as swimming pools. If your earache lasts for more than 2 days, you should see your doctor. Cleaning your ears with cotton swabs can also cause an infection.
Treating an external ear infection (otitis externa):
It will mostly clear up of its own accord, but eardrops could help as well as, where necessary, paracetamol.
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