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Ear Infection & Blocked Ear

Ear Infection :: Blocked Ear

Ear Infection

The ear has three main parts, outer ear, middle ear, and inner ear. Sound waves travel through outer ear, reach the middle ear and finally vibrations travel to inner ear. A variety of conditions affect your hearing and ear infections are the most common. Ear infection, most commonly is an inflammation and infection of the middle ear.

Types

There are two types of ear infection that develops in adults and may include:

  • Outer ear infections: This type of ear infection is more common among swimmers and hence known as swimmer's ear or otitis externa. It is the painful condition caused by infection of the outer ear. While swimming the polluted water gets trapped into the ear along with bacteria and other microorganisms and cause infection. This type of ear infection is more common in adults

  • Acute middle ear infections: This type of ear infection is more common in children due to, smaller eustachian tube size due to which draining out the pus becomes difficult. It is also called as otitis media

Causes

The most common cause of ear infection is bacterial or viral infections. These bacteria or viruses enter the ears if the individual is suffering from cold, flu or allergy or other breathing problems and spread the infection to the middle ear.

Symptoms

Some of the commonly observed symptoms of ear infection are ear redness, itching inside the ear, pus drainage, flaking of the skin, feeling of blockage, ear pain, dizziness, fever and hearing loss.

Diagnosis

Your doctor performs physical examination by examining the throat, head, neck, and ears and asks your personal and family history. Using otoscope, a lighted instrument your doctor will look inside your ear, for presence of a red bulge, or air bubbles, or fluid which indicates that the ear is infected.

Pneumatic otoscope test is a diagnostic test used to check the accumulation of fluid on the eardrum. In this test, your doctor blows air into your ear; in normal cases the ear drum moves front and back when air is blown, but in an infected ear, the ear drum does not move, which is a clear sign of accumulation of fluid.

Your doctor may suggest for a hearing test in individuals who have frequent ear infections.

Treatment

In most cases, an ear infection in an adult is initially treated with antibiotics. Amoxicillin is generally prescribed antibiotic. Acetaminophen (Tylenol) may be prescribed to reduce the pain and fever caused by ear infection.

Surgery is very rarely recommended in cases if the antibiotics fail to clear the infections and in cases of recurrent infections. Surgery involves placement of tympanostomy tube, a small ventilating tube in the eardrum. This tube allows the air to pass in allowing the fluid to drain out and also prevents the fluid accumulation behind the ear.

Complications of ear infection

Ear infections, if left untreated may cause several complications such as meningitis, chronic and recurrent infection, formation of cysts, enlarged adenoid glands, spread of infection to brain tissues, delayed speech, and hearing loss. Therefore early diagnosis and treatment will prevent further complications.

Prevention

Practicing certain measures may prevent the ear infections:

  • Keep the ears clean and dry
  • Avoid swimming in contaminated water
  • Washing the hands before touching the ears
  • Dry the ear completely after exposure to moist conditions
  • Wear ear plugs while swimming
  • Avoid scratching the ears
  • Avoid use of cotton swabs or other objects in the ear

Blocked Ear

The ear canal, a tube running from the outer ear to middle ear, contains tiny hair follicles as well as glands. These glands produce a waxy substance called cerumen (ear wax) which protects the skin of the ear canal from dust, bacteria, fungi, insects and water. Ear wax also prevents foreign substances from entering the delicate regions of the ear. Excessive earwax may harden and block the passage of sound waves in the ear canal and cause loss of hearing. One of the most common causes of deafness is wax blockage.

Causes

The most common cause of blocked ear is wax accumulation. Wax gets accumulated if the wax gets pushed deep into ear during cleaning your ears. Other causes include:

  • Foreign body accumulation can lead to sensation of blockage
  • Inflammation of the ear canal (acute otitis externa)
  • Inflammation of the eustachian tube (a tube connecting ear to throat)
  • Tumors or growths within the ear canal
  • Pressure changes in the middle and outer ear that occurs during travelling in flights

Symptoms

Blocked ear can cause earache, partial hearing loss, ringing sound, other sounds in the ear and ear fullness accompanied by cold and flu-like symptoms.

Diagnosis

Your doctor makes a thorough physical examination of the ear to determine the extent of accumulated wax.

Treatment

Treatment can be started at home which includes use of baby oil, commercial drops, glycerin and mineral oil that can help in softening the wax in the ear. To remove wax from the ear, detergent drops such as hydrogen peroxide or carbamide peroxide may be used.

Irrigation is another method of removing wax using body-temperature water. You should sit upright and straighten the ear canal by holding the outside ear and gently pulling it upwards. Then direct a small stream of water with the help of a syringe against the ear canal following which you can tip your head to allow for water drainage. This process should be repeated several times. Do not irrigate if there is ruptured eardrum as it may lead to ear infection. Dry your ear thoroughly using a few drops of alcohol in the ear after the wax is removed.

If the wax cannot be removed with the oils or irrigation then your doctor removes the wax by repeating the irrigation procedure, suctioning the ear canal or by using a small device called a curette.

Inflammation of the ear canal and the eustachian tube resulting in blockage of ear is treated with use of medications.

Tumors and growths should be diagnosed and surgically removed.

Digital hearing aids may be recommended for those who lose their hearing ability.

Prevention

  • Avoid cleaning the ear with sharp objects, instead use a cloth or paper tissue wrapped around your finger
  • Wear ear-plugs to avoid dust accumulation
  • Routine examination every 3 to 6 months for earwax blockage
  • If you have frequent ear blockage, consult an ENT specialist
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Royal Australasian College of Surgeons The Australian Society Of Otolaryngology Head And Neck Surgery Australian New Zealand Society of Paediatric Otorhinolaryngology (ANZSPO) The University of New South Wales The University of Sydney Harvard Medical School

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