Ear infections are classified according to the area affected. The most common, otitis media, is an infection of the middle ear, and is very common in children Middle ear infections are usually very painful, the affected area being so small that the infection and pus cannot escape. The ear drum becomes red, sore and starts to bulge outwards. (In severe infection, the drum can actually burst).
Children will commonly display symptoms such as
Tugging at the ear
Crying at night when lying down
Adult symptoms include:
Earache and/or a feeling of fullness in the ear
Fever and chills
Nausea and diarrhoea
Vertigo and dizziness
Swimmers’ ear (external otitis) is associated with:
Itching and pain (pain may be worse when pressure is applied)
Foul-smelling discharge from the ear
Hearing loss (if the ear becomes swollen and full of debris)
Boils may also develop in the area
Otitis media can be mild (acute) and can be an isolated case, or may recur as often as 3 – 6 times in six months (recurrent). If it continues for weeks without clearing up, it is called chronic otitis media.
Otitis media occurs when viruses or bacteria enter the eustachian tube that connects the middle ear with the back of the throat.
Cells in the middle ear create a fluid that helps defend against attacking organisms. In most cases, the fluid drains out through the eustachian tube and into the throat. When the eustachian tube becomes swollen (as in ear infections), the fluid can become trapped in the middle ear, causing the area to become inflamed and infected.
In children, the eustachian tube is shorter and more horizontal than in adults, leaving them more vulnerable to infection of this type.
Ear infections commonly develop when a person is already suffering from cold or flu symptoms, due to the presence of viruses and bacteria in the upper respiratory tract. Other common causes include allergies, smoke, fumes and environmental toxins.
Swimmers’ ear normally develops due to excess moisture inside the ear, such as occurs during normal showering or swimming, or following an upper respiratory infection. Excessive amounts of wax can also cause obstruction, allowing water to build up in the ear canal. The moisture causes an eczema in the ear, which may become infected if the skin tears or breaks.
Acute ear infection requires professional treatment, which may include:
Horseradish & Garlic – dries up mucus in the nose, sinuses and ears, and may relieve the pressure of ear infection
To break a cycle of recurrent ear infections, try vitamins A and C, zinc and the herb Echinacea to stimulate the body’s resistance
Dairy products increase the body’s mucus production, and milk allergy is commonly behind recurrent ear infections – particularly in children. Many parents have found that removing dairy products from their children’s diets strongly reduces the tendency to develop ear infections. Avoiding sugar and white flour-based foods will also be helpful. Instead, your child’s diet should contain lots of fresh fruit and vegetables, nuts, seeds and fish.
Don’t swim in polluted water, and at the first sign of any ear discomfort after swimming consult your health care professional.
Babies are less likely to develop ear infections if they are breast-fed – preferably for at least the first six months of life. Breast-feeding helps to build the baby’s immune system, and at the same time delays the introduction of foods such as dairy products which have the potential to cause allergic reactions.
Never lie a baby down with a propped up bottle to feed. The action of gravity on the contents of the bottle increases the pressure on the baby’s ear passages.
Keep your home as free as possible from potential allergens such as cigarette smoke, dust, cleaning fluid and solvents.
Preventative doses of Echinacea may be useful to help reduce a tendency to infection in children over 2 years old.
Swimmers’ ear can be prevented by using special ear-drops made of alcohol or weak acetic acid to disinfect the ear canal, immediately after swimming.
Serious consequences can arise from untreated ear infections. Always consult your health care professional if you or your child is displaying symptoms or develops hearing problems.