How to treat your child’s ear infection during COVID-19
The COVID-19 pandemic has created numerous challenges for parents. Navigating shelter-in-place guidelines while keeping children happy, occupied, and healthy is no small feat. While initially research suggested that children were not as severely impacted by the novel Coronavirus, later cases have raised concerns about more severe effects than previously thought, such as Multisystem Inflammatory Syndrome in Children (MIS-C).
While COVID-19 may present a lower risk to children than adults, kids could still transmit this highly contagious virus to at-risk individuals. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommend the following guidelines to help protect children and the people they encounter:
- Wash hands often with soap and water, scrubbing for at least 20 seconds
- Maintain a distance of at least 6 feet from other people when outside of the household. In settings where maintaining this distance becomes difficult, masks are recommended for children over the age of 2.
- Avoid contact with people who present symptoms of illness, such as sneezing or coughing.
- Clean and disinfect household surfaces daily that are touched regularly in common areas (such as counters, tables, doorknobs, or light switches). Clothing and washable toys should also be laundered regularly.
The American Academy of Pediatrics notes that social distancing remains critical in helping slow the spread of this devastating virus, and distancing guidelines have radically changed when and how families venture out into public places. One of the many concerns parents face is balancing shelter-in-place guidelines with the need to take children to the pediatrician. Determining whether a doctor’s visit is warranted or even safe weighs on many parents’ minds. During the early stages of the virus, concerns over the national supply of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), as well as the risk of contracting or transmitting the virus led people to avoid doctor and hospital visits. As every parent knows, however, regular pediatrician visits are critical for young children, and ear infections are one of the most common reasons for a trip to their doctor.
As we have noted in a previous post, ear infections (otitis media) are one of the most common health problems children will face, affecting 4 out of 5 by their third birthday (and 90% of kids during their childhood). The Mayo Clinic notes that children are more prone to ear infections because their immune systems are still developing, and also because of the size and shape of their Eustachian tubes (a structure that helps naturally drain the middle ear) as they grow. Swelling or blockage of these tubes can lead to pressure from fluid and/or mucous build-up in the middle ear, causing pain and also possibly impeding the child’s hearing until the infection clears up. Chronic ear infections can lead to more sustained hearing loss and possible speech delays as a result.
What are the signs my child might have an ear infection?
Symptoms can appear rapidly in the case of an ear infection. Children will often complain of ear pain (particularly when lying down), but the following behaviors may also indicate an infection:
- Tugging at the ear
- Out-of-the-ordinary crying or fussiness
- Trouble sleeping
- Not reacting to sounds
Additional symptoms parents should monitor include:
- Fluid draining from the ear
- Loss of appetite
If symptoms last more than 24 hours, you should contact your pediatrician.
What kinds of treatment will they need?
Most ear infections will clear up on their own, in which case the primary focus of treatment is pain relief. Ear infections have historically been a prime recipient of antibiotic over-prescription, however the current recommended approach in most cases is to observe symptoms for 48 to 72 hours before prescribing antibiotics, in order to minimize the risk of antibiotic resistance. Dr. Robert M. Jacobson, chair of the Mayo Clinic’s Department of Pediatric and Adolescent Medicine, notes that “The body’s immune system can usually resolve [ear infections]. More and more studies show that children treated or untreated are at the same place 10 days out. We are constantly amazed at how many ear infections resolve on their own.”
Parents are urged to contact their pediatrician if symptoms persist more than 24 hours, however. Even if antibiotics will not be prescribed, your pediatrician can confirm what symptoms parents should monitor and prescribe medication or recommend over-the-counter remedies to help manage symptoms while the child’s immune system does its job. If the symptoms do not improve, then antibiotics may be necessary, and for chronic ear infections, placing tubes in the ears to facilitate drainage of any middle ear fluid, relieving pressure build-up, and reduce the frequency of infections.
Is it safe to visit the pediatrician under COVID restrictions?
The American Academy of Pediatrics absolutely recommends calling your pediatrician when ear infection symptoms last longer than 24 hours or become severe (e.g. fluid leaking, fever). Across the country, doctors’ offices are taking extra precautions to prevent the transmission of COVID-19 and make your visit as safe as possible. To allow for social distancing, pediatricians have developed strategies to help keep symptomatic and asymptomatic patients apart, or to separate out higher risk patients, such as infants.
Calling ahead can help the office plan for your visit and space out appointments to maintain social distancing. A telehealth consultation may also be available, allowing parents to discuss symptoms by phone or video conferencing in order to determine next steps in treatment. Through a telehealth consultation, your pediatrician can gauge the severity of symptoms, lay out an appropriate action plan in case they worsen, and even provide prescriptions or recommendations for over-the-counter remedies.
If an in-person consultation is necessary in order to treat a more severe ear infection, wearing a mask is recommended for children age 2 and above, in order to minimize the risk of transmission. Even someone who is asymptomatic can be carrying the virus, and a mask greatly reduces the risk of transmission of the virus through respiratory droplets or spit. A mask becomes particularly critical when a safe distance of 6 feet cannot be maintained, such as during a routine ear check-up. If a child is scared about wearing a face mask, the American Academy of Pediatrics has compiled a list of suggestions to help children overcome their apprehension. Children who are immunocompromised, putting them at a higher risk if they do contract the virus, wearing an N95 mask is recommended.
Based on current understanding of the novel Coronavirus, the treatments for ear infections outlined above do not appear to pose any risks in combination with COVID-19. Earlier this year, while in the early stages of understanding the virus, there were concerns that ibuprofen would not interact well with the virus, both the World Health Organization and the American Academy of Pediatrics no longer advise against the use of ibuprofen as a pain reliever/fever reducer when the risk of COVID-19 infection is present.
COVID-19 has disrupted daily routines in a number of ways, however it is important for parents to note that there is no reason to avoid consulting your pediatrician when ear infection symptoms develop and persist. Monitoring the infection under the guidance of your doctor will help keep your children healthy and happy.
Interview with Dr. Michael Novak
PhotoniCare sits down with Dr. Michael Novak, an Ear, Nose and Throat doctor from Carle Foundation Hospital in Urbana, Illinois, to chat about middle ear questions commonly asked in an ENT’s office.
Dr. Novak, before we dig into our questions, can you help us to define otitis media?
Otitis media, or middle ear infection, refers to inflammation, infection or fluid under the eardrum. Middle ear infections are most common in children.
Why do children get more ear infections when compared to adults?
Most ear problems stem from the eustachian tubes. Eustachian tubes are the tubes that connect the middle ears to the back of the nose. The tubes help the ears drain fluid and they also keep air pressure in the ears at the right level. Children are prone to more ear infections because this area within their ear is quite small/narrow compared to adults. Anything that makes the nose stuffy has the tendency to the block eustachian tubes underneath the ear drum. Swelling from colds or allergies can keep the eustachian tubes from opening and this leads to pressure changes and the collection of fluid in the middle ear. This pressure and fluid will cause pain and sometimes the fluid can lead to an infection. Therefore when kids get a cold, and the cold runs its course (over about 5-7 days), it’s usually about another 10-14 days after that the eustachian tubes start to clear and things clear up on their own.
Are there home remedies for ear infections?
Many primary and specialty care physicians push home remedies to avoid over-prescription of antibiotics. The old adage says “if a doctor treats you you’ll get better in one week, and if they don’t you’ll get better in seven days”. So we want to know, who has lingering problems? Who needs the treatment? That should be our primary focus. For home treatments – most are harmless and people can easily treat a cold or allergy with symptomatic treatments like over-the-counter antihistamines, decongestants, nose sprays, and such. Anything that makes the nose stuffy has the tendency to block the eustachian tubes underneath the ear drum. Treatments like holding your nose and gently popping your ears can provide relief and the more you do it the faster your ears may clear. Babies and young children typically cannot pop their ears, but popping may happen if they suck on a bottle or pacifier. Another home remedy is lukewarm salt water inserted into the nose and pulled out by hand bulb syringe.
How many ear infections must one have before tubes are considered as a form of treatment?
Standard guidelines say four acute ear infections over a six month period, or fluid that persists more than three months. However, a lot of factors are considered when recommending ear tubes. The time of year (persistent ear infections in the summer or fall months as opposed to winter months) as well as issues that may be impairing the child’s hearing and speech development. Physicians will most likely be less patient with standard guidelines especially with children that have speech delays due persistent ear infections.
I am noticing it is taking my daughter longer for speech development in comparison to her older siblings that didn’t suffer as badly from multiple ear infections. Should I be concerned about speech and language delays? Or potential hearing loss? What can we do?
Speech delay for many people is ill-defined. Children will develop at their own rate. However, the American Speech-Language Hearing Association offers charts that can tell you when most children who speak only one language will reach certain milestones. Not being able to master one skill in the age range does not mean that your child has speech and language delays. Although you may want to seek the guidance of your physician if you answer “no” for your child for most of the skills in the charts.
I know I’m not supposed to use cotton swabs to clean out my ears – so then what do I use instead?
Wax, or cerumen, is a good thing and harmless but occasionally it blocks up everything and can make it hard to hear or even for the physician to capture an adequate image inside the ear. Cotton swabs aren’t terrible when used on the outside opening of the ear (as long as you’re super cautious). Wax handling can be taken care of at home with one of the over-the-counter ear wax softening or ear irrigation kits. Doctors may also suggest patients try a home remedy of a few drops of baby oil in each ear, then wait 3-7 days to allow the wax to soften. At that point, the individual should get into the bathtub (because the next step may get a little messy). Fill a hand bulb syringe with half lukewarm water and half hydrogen peroxide and gently flush out each ear with this mixture. It makes a mess, but it’s the safest way to conduct this home remedy. For a really waxy kid, the buildup will continue to occur, so repeat this method every few months. If you really can’t get the ear(s) cleaned out then it can be done in a physician’s office. Certain groups of patients, such as those with hearing aids, will often have earwax buildup and should be routinely evaluated for cerumen impaction. The same goes for young children and cognitively impaired adults, who may be unable to express symptoms of cerumen impaction.
What made you want to become an otolaryngologist? Specifically, an Otologist specializing in ear disorders and surgery?
When I was in medical school I found that I really liked anatomy. I especially liked head and neck anatomy as well as head and neck surgery. It’s complex and I liked the challenge. From there I sub-specialized in the ears only. This specialization is even harder than just ear, nose, and throat (ENT). Ears are very small and very complex. There is a huge amount that we don’t know about hearing, hearing loss, and treatments. I find it all to be very challenging but the surgery, although often difficult, is very rewarding. I had a couple of mentors in medical school that were wonderful people and teachers that were talented in the art of patient care. They never forgot what they were there for – to take care of people. In my role I work with good people. We work as a team which makes a huge impact on the lives of both adults and children by improving their hearing. It has turned out to be a challenging and rewarding field.
I’m sure you are quite busy, but what do you do for fun?
I’m a huge Cubs fan! I have 7 grandchildren, 5 of which live close by. I enjoy reading and I also enjoy playing golf and tennis and going hiking.
Why do we want the OtoSight Middle Ear Scope?
Diagnosing an ear infection in children can be difficult. Most people can recognize that because a child becomes upset and develops a fever. But realistically it can be very difficult to know if there is fluid underneath the eardrum. Most diagnosis of ear infections are at the primary level, emergency department, or convenient care. So if we can have an objective measure like the OtoSight Middle Ear Scope to tell if you have fluid or not – it is huge! It helps us to better understand if there is fluid and whether or not we should treat. It’s a huge benefit to children and their families, not to mention the cost to society in general. This device will revolutionize how we diagnose ear infections. One of these days it will be the standard in all offices and people will feel lost without it.
What is an Otolaryngologist and when should I see one?
This week on the #EnginEarGuys blog we talk about otolaryngology – one of the oldest medical specialties in the United States. We also share when it is important to see one, especially as it relates to dealing with persistent ear infections.
Otolaryngology (pronounced oh/toe/lair/in/goll/oh/jee) is the specific medical and surgical treatment and management of patients that struggle with ear, nose, throat and related disorders of the head and neck. We often refer to otolaryngologists as ENT (Ear, Nose, and Throat) doctors because it’s easier to say than otolaryngologist. They treat children and adults with a wide range of disorders, including ear disease (like otitis media or middle ear infections), hearing loss, nasal and sinus problems, throat problems, and tumors in the head and neck.
Physicians that go on to become ENT specialists complete upwards of six years of specialized surgical training beyond medical school. To qualify for certification by the American Board of Otolaryngology, an applicant must first complete college and medical school, and have at least five years of ENT specialty training after that. Then one must successfully pass the American Board of Otolaryngology license exam, followed by fellowship for more extensive training in one of eight subspecialty areas. These areas include allergy, facial plastic and reconstructive surgery, head and neck, laryngology (throat), otology/neurology (ears, balance, and tinnitus), pediatric otolaryngology, rhinology (nose), and sleep disorders.
PhotoniCare works with a number ENT specialists, specifically pediatric ENTs, on a variety of our research and development efforts. Children are more prone to ear infections than adults. Therefore we work with pediatric ENTs to study and better develop how our technology can make a more positive impact on diagnosis and treatment of ear infections.
Patients are often referred to an ENT specialist in order to treat disorders of the ears, nose, throat, and related structures of the head and neck. Different than other physicians, these specialists are trained in both medicine and surgery. Patients commonly referred to ENTs include those that suffer from recurring ear infections and may be candidates for ear ventilation tube surgery. An ear tube is used most often to provide long-term drainage and ventilation to middle ears that have had persistent fluid buildup, chronic middle ear infections, or frequent infections.
‘Tis the Season for Otitis Media
For some children, ear infections seem unavoidable. With the cold and flu season upon us, otitis media (commonly known as middle ear infection) becomes a real possibility. It’s good to know the symptoms and treatments before you or a family member come down with this common infection.
- What is a middle ear infection (otitis media)?A middle ear infection occurs behind the eardrum and can be caused by either bacteria or viruses. It can be painful because of the buildup of fluid and pressure in the middle ear, as well as inflammation of the middle ear cavity and the eardrum itself.
- Understanding the symptomsWhen someone suffers from a middle ear infection, they can experience ear pain, irritability, fever, or have trouble sleeping and/or hearing. If a child has an infection, but may not be old enough to verbalize it, they may tug on their ear, or become uncharacteristically fussy or grumpy.
- Treatment for otitis media (for adults or children over the age of 6 months)In most cases, a middle ear infection will clear up on its own. Managing the pain and making sure it doesn’t become more serious becomes the priority. Most pain can be managed with a warm, moist washcloth held to the ear and age appropriate pain medication. A healthcare provider may prescribe antibiotics for a bacterial infection if symptoms last longer than 48 hours, or if the child is under the age of 6 months. It is important to distinguish between a bacterial and viral infection, as only bacterial infections should and can be treated with antibiotics.
- When to visit a healthcare provider
If the ear pain becomes severe, or lasts longer than 48 hours, a visit to the healthcare provider is recommended. If it is suspected that a child under the age of 6 months old suffers from otitis media, call your doctor right away.
- How does a middle ear infection occurMost middle ear infections are caused by either bacteria or viruses. A common cold, the flu, or allergy symptoms that cause congestion and swelling of the nasal passages, throat, and eustachian tubes can sometimes lead to an infection. The eustachian tube controls the pressure in the middle ear, like when your ears “pop” on an airplane or scuba diving. One of the reasons ear infections are common in children is because their eustachian tubes are smaller and less pitched than they are in adults. This makes it harder for fluid to be able to drain. In children, the eustachian tubes can more easily become blocked, which as a result, allows the fluid to build up and the ear infection to thrive.
Earwax has met its match with the OtoSight Middle Ear Scope
Ear infections are sometimes difficult to diagnose using traditional tools, which cannot see through or around a buildup of earwax. However, impacted earwax isn’t as much of an issue when using the OtoSight Middle Ear Scope to directly visualize fluid in the middle ear. In this blog, we share how earwax has met its match with the OtoSight Middle Ear Scope.
What is earwax and why can too much of it become an issue?
Earwax can be found in the outer ear canal. The ear canal is the tube that runs from your ear lobe to your eardrum. The skin in the ear canal has special glands that produce cerumen, which is the medical term for earwax. Once the glands produce earwax, it makes its way along the ear canal to the opening of the ear. For some people this is the end of the journey for their earwax because it falls out when the outer ear is cleaned. However, some individuals produce an above-average amount of earwax. How much earwax is produced, and what kind is produced (“wet” or “dry”) can be hereditary. For some peoples, their earwax makes its way down the ear canal and picks up dead skin cells along the way. The result is a buildup of earwax in the ear canal, which sometimes becomes hard and less mobile. An accumulation of earwax can cause symptoms like hearing loss (especially when the canal is completely clogged) and prevent a clinician from conducting a full and complete ear exam.
How do healthcare providers currently deal with earwax obstructions when trying to assess possible middle ear infections?
Different methods for earwax removal are used depending on a patient’s complications. Oftentimes earwax can be removed with special ear drops or an in-office procedure by a healthcare provider. However, when a child or infant patient presents with impacted (clogged) earwax and is fussy or unwilling to have their ears examined, a healthcare provider is less likely to be able to accurately visualize the surface of the eardrum using an otoscope. According to this article published in April 2000 by American Family Physician, “Adequate visualization of the tympanic membrane [eardrum] is often impaired by low light output from old otoscope bulbs and blockage of the ear canal by cerumen”. Therefore, a complete and accurate ear exam is often difficult to conduct due to the earwax blockage.
What can the OtoSight Middle Ear Scope do to help healthcare providers visualize the middle ear space despite earwax blockage?
The OtoSight Middle Ear Scope is the first otoscope to provide non-invasive imaging of the eardrum and underlying middle ear. Using a novel application of Optical Coherence Tomography (OCT), OtoSight Middle Ear Scope is able to directly visualize fluid in the middle ear, a key determinant when following AAP Guidelines for diagnosing middle ear infections, particularly Acute Otitis Media (AOM). Additionally, unlike the traditional otoscope, the OtoSight Middle Ear Scope can capture images even with the presence of significant earwax build-up in the ear canal. The OtoSight Middle Ear Scope only needs a second or two to generate our patented middle ear scan technology to learn what’s going on in the middle ear, where the infections live!
A recent clinical study conducted by PhotoniCare showed that a representative patient population had an average of ~60% occlusion of the eardrum due to earwax–for standard diagnostic tools that leaves very little of the eardrum to be examined! The OtoSight Middle Ear Scope, on the other hand, helps to determine the presence or absence of fluid in the middle ear, characterize the type of fluid, visualize the fluid’s density, and do all of this even in the presence of significant wax.
What a Middle Ear Infection Looks Like
Despite its small size, the ear is a very complicated organ. The three main parts of the ear are known as the inner, middle, and outer ear. PhotoniCare focus their research and work on the middle ear. The middle ear is the area located directly behind the eardrum.
Most middle ear infections are caused by either bacteria or viruses. A common cold, the flu, or allergy symptoms that cause congestion and swelling of the nasal passages, throat, and eustachian tubes can sometimes lead to an infection. Anything that makes the nose stuffy has a tendency to cause swelling and blockage of the eustachian tubes. Swelling from colds or allergies can keep the eustachian tubes from opening and this leads to pressure changes and the accumulation of fluid in the middle ear. This pressure and fluid will cause pain and sometimes persistent fluid can lead to an infection.
When a healthcare provider checks you or your child for an ear infection, they will typically use an instrument called an otoscope. An otoscope is basically a pen light attached to a magnifying glass, and this simple device has been used in medicine for the past 150 years. The otoscope comes with several pointed tips called specula. A speculum is chosen based on the size of the patient’s ear opening. The healthcare provider will gently insert the speculum into the ear canal to look at the surface of the eardrum. The otoscope will allow the provider to look at the surface of the eardrum.
Note: These are ideal, textbook images of the surface of the eardrum that you or your family healthcare provider rarely see because there may be wax blocking his/her view, or the patient may be uncooperative, which prevents proper positioning of the otoscope. These real-life impediments are what makes diagnosing AOM so difficult.
When to Visit Your Healthcare Provider
Ear pain and concerns about hearing are one of the most common reasons parents take their children to the doctor. If you suspect that your child has an ear infection, then the #EnginEarGuys recommend you contact your healthcare provider. A provider will examine your child’s ear for an infection or if there is another issue causing your child’s symptoms and pain. If the provider does suspect an ear infection, antibiotics may or may not be recommended.
Generally speaking, an ear infection has the potential to resolve itself without antibiotic treatment. In the case of a severe middle ear infection with infected fluid in the middle ear, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends the physician prescribe antibiotics. However, the guidelines recommend the “watchful waiting” approach for non-severe middle ear infections in children over the age of two. The overall goal is to reduce over-prescription of antibiotics.
4 Foods that Promote Ear Health
Food is vitally important to us. It nourishes our bodies, gives us energy, and even has the ability to improve our moods. Certain foods can also be important to certain parts of our bodies. Take carrots for instance. Not only are they a perfect mid-afternoon snack, or complementary side dish to an entrée, carrots are also used to get small amounts of Vitamin A, which is good for your eyesight. Knowing this, it makes one wonder, what kind of food may be good for ear health and a person’s hearing? What food should a person include in their diet to maintain healthy ears?
Bananas have always been known for a good source of potassium and many runners have bananas in their daily diets to fight cramping of the muscles. But did you know that bananas can also help protect against hearing loss? Bananas contain magnesium. Magnesium is known to help expand the blood vessels and extend circulation (even all the way in your inner ear). In addition to increasing blood flow, it also controls the release of glutamate. Glutamate is a major contributor of noise-induced hearing loss, so when controlled effectively, a person is significantly less likely to have his or her hearing altered. The ease of including bananas in your everyday diet is a plus as well. Whether it is breakfast on the go, a snack to get you through the day, or sliced up in a smoothie, there are so many ways to incorporate bananas and keep hearing loss at bay.
Everyone knows that a person’s body tends to break down the older he or she gets – and hearing is no exception. That is where salmon comes in! Salmon is good for your ears, and specifically, hearing. Salmon, sardines, and other similar fish contain omega-3 fatty acids. Omega-3 fatty acids are known for having the ability to reduce the risk of age-dependent hearing loss. While it helps slow age-related hearing loss, it does not mean that you have to wait until a certain age before taking action. Starting out eating two servings of salmon per week when you are young will help you begin taking care of your ears far before any problems arise. There is nothing wrong with being proactive! There is only one problem with salmon being good for a person’s ear health. Not everyone likes fish! So, if a person does not like fish, is he or she just destined to experience age-related hearing loss? Thankfully, that is not the case.
In a study released in 2007, it was found that folic acid was also extremely helpful in delaying hearing loss. One such food that is full of folic acid is broccoli. In addition to the folic acid, broccoli also contains nutrients such as Vitamin K, Vitamin C, and fiber. This trio of nutrients is incredibly helpful in reducing damage to the delicate and sensitive tissues in a person’s ear. Whether ingested raw, steamed, or grilled, a good amount of broccoli in a person’s diet will be sure to protect his or her hearing much longer than an average person’s.
Some of you have been reading this article grumbling about all these healthy foods and the health-nuts that must be writing this…well, never fear! Dark chocolate has been known to aid in the prevention of hearing loss, as well! One of the main contributors to age-related hearing loss is a zinc deficiency. That’s where dark chocolate comes in. A treat that is high in zinc, eating a square of dark chocolate a day can keep a person hearing better than his or her peers well into old age.
So, if you are keeping track, the #EnginEarGuys have offered up a nice meal plan of ear-health-related foods: bananas to start the day, a serving or two of salmon per week, a hearty side of broccoli for lunch or dinner, and a square of dark chocolate to end the meal. It is no wonder why food is so important for us. Along with accomplishing the obvious of keeping us fed, it also helps our energy, mood, immune system, and countless other important functions throughout our body. Hearing is no exception to this! It is never too early to begin protecting yourself from hearing loss. By incorporating these four foods into your diet, you can rest assured knowing you are taking proper care of your ear health.
Can Ear Infections Cause Hearing Loss?
Hearing loss may occur due to injury, aging, noise exposure, and/or heredity. But can ear infections also contribute to hearing loss? That is not a simple question to answer!
Most middle ear infections are caused by either bacteria or viruses. A common cold, the flu, or allergy symptoms that cause congestion and swelling of the nasal passages, throat, and eustachian tubes can sometimes lead to an infection. Anything that makes the nose stuffy has a tendency to cause swelling and blockage of the eustachian tubes. Swelling from colds or allergies can keep the eustachian tubes from opening and this leads to pressure changes and the accumulation of fluid in the middle ear. This pressure and fluid will cause pain and sometimes persistent fluid can lead to an infection, or even temporary hearing loss.
When hearing loss occurs as the result of an ear infection, it is referred to as conductive hearing loss. It happens when an obstruction appears in the middle ear, not allowing sounds to stimulate the auditory nerve. Conductive hearing loss affects the outer or middle ear, rather than the auditory nerve. Since the auditory nerve is unaffected, this hearing loss is often temporary and hearing returns after treatment is completed. Treatment may include antibiotics or even tubes within the ear if the patient has a history of ear infections.
While conductive hearing loss seems fairly mild and temporary, there are other situations caused by ear infections that can be more serious in nature and have a long-term impact on a person’s hearing. When someone develops an ear infection, there is typically a buildup of fluid in the middle ear. If that fluid continues to build up, the pressure can potentially rupture the eardrum.
Another possible outcome of an ear infection is Tympanosclerosis. Tympanosclerosis, the thickening or scarring of the tympanic membrane, usually occurs when the patient has a history of recurring ear infections. This will affect the mobility of the eardrum and will negatively impact hearing. While it is possible to have hearing return to normal after treatment, there is still a risk of permanent hearing issues. When this happens, hearing aids may be the only option.
While temporary hearing loss during an ear infection is not all that uncommon, it can still be unsettling. It is also important to pay close attention to infants and toddlers who may suffer from chronic ear infections since this is the age where speech and language hits a crucial learning point. Any repeated or temporary hearing loss may have a long-term negative impact.
In summary, the question of whether ear infections have the ability to cause hearing loss is a complicated one to answer. Yes, almost all cases have the potential to suffer from temporary hearing loss; however, rarely, if ever, is it a permanent change. More often than not, the hearing will gradually return as the infection runs its course.
Why adults (still) get ear infections
Ear infections are often considered a childhood disease. It almost seems a rite of passage for children to experience repeat ear infections. Then, around the beginning of their teenage years, it often stops entirely. By the time a person hits adulthood, it is quite common to be decades of years removed from the last time he or she experienced an ear infection. It almost seems as though it is impossible for adults to get an ear infection, right? Unfortunately, although not as common in adults as it is in children, it is still possible for adults to suffer an ear infection. In fact, around 20% of ear infections occur in adults. This begs the question, why can adults still get them?
How Adults Get an Ear Infection
Adult ear infections are just like the ear infections a person would have gotten when he or she was a child. Most middle ear infections are caused by either bacteria or viruses. A common cold, the flu, or allergy symptoms that cause congestion and swelling of the nasal passages, throat, and eustachian tubes can sometimes lead to an infection. Anything that makes the nose stuffy has a tendency to cause swelling and blockage of the eustachian tubes. Swelling from colds or allergies can keep the eustachian tubes from opening and this leads to pressure changes and the accumulation of fluid in the middle ear. This pressure and fluid will cause pain and sometimes persistent fluid can lead to an infection.
Adult Ear Infection Risk Factors
Typically, for an adult ear infection, people with a weakened immune system or inflammation in the structures of the ear are more at risk. Adults with diabetes and/or chronic skin conditions (like eczema or psoriasis) also may be more prone to adult ear infections than most.
When to See a Healthcare Provider
One of the hardest questions to answer when it comes to ear infections is if/when to see a doctor. Often, the symptoms of ear infections can go away on their own without the need for antibiotics or a doctor visit. A good warning to remember is if the symptoms of an ear infection have not improved or completely gone away within three days, if there are new symptoms (e.g. fever, loss of balance, etc.), or if there is discharge coming from the ear, then a trip to the doctor’s office should take place. After a doctor has made his or her diagnosis, then treatment can begin, whether with antibiotics or simple pain management.
Ear Infection Prevention
With all infections, there are ways of preventing adult ear infections from happening. Quitting smoking is a massively important step in preventing adult ear infections. Smoking damages the lungs and the respiratory system. It damages the delicate tissues and affects the immune system’s ability to combat respiratory infections, as well as causing inflammation. By cutting out this harmful habit, a person’s body is better equipped to fight infection and prevent an adult ear infection from happening in the first place. In addition to quitting smoking, some basic hygiene tips can also help. Properly cleaning the outer ear after swimming or bathing helps avoid water sitting in the ear, which can lead to outer ear infections. When drying or cleaning the ear, try to avoid using cotton swabs, as use increases your risk of accidentally damaging your eardrum. Finally, regularly washing hands and avoiding allergy triggers as much as possible are good hygiene tips for the ear. Lastly, eating a well-balanced diet is helpful to your whole body, even your ears.
Ear infections are no fun when you’re a kid, and they are no better as an adult. While not as common as childhood ear infections, adult ear infections have a lot of the same symptoms with the potential for more serious consequences if it is allowed to go unchecked for too long. Basic ear hygiene and healthy lifestyle choices are good ways to avoid the infections but may not always be perfect. It’s always good practice to pay attention to your body and not ignore new aches and pains. Just because you are an adult, does not mean you cannot get an ear infection.
5 ways to protect your ears and hearing
Ready to hear something painfully obvious? Your hearing is vitally important. As simple of an idea as that seems, many people do not know how to properly protect the health of their ears. Once a person’s hearing is damaged, there is no way to repair it and the condition may worsen over time. While there are plenty of ways to fend off hearing loss, we want to highlight five ways to protect ear health.
Turn the Volume Down
The World Health Organization conducted a study and the findings are staggering. They found that 1.1 billion teenagers and young adults face hearing loss dangers from unsafe use of audio devices. This tip is incredibly important for parents of young children. A good practice to follow is listening to their music at 60% volume for no longer than an hour. This will help protect their ears from suffering damage from music that is too loud. Also, if you are looking into buying your child or children an audio device, try going for the over-the-ear headphones. Earbuds are fitted directly next to the eardrum and can have the most negative impact on hearing.
Don’t be Afraid of Using Earplugs
Everyone has been in the following situation: you’re out with your friends at the club or at a concert and the music is bumping and there’s a lot of loud conversations happening all around you, so much so that you feel that you need to yell at the person next to you just so he or she can hear what you’re trying to say. This is a prime situation where earplugs could and should be utilized. Nearly 15% of Americans have experienced some type of loud work or leisure environment that has caused noise-induced hearing loss. Earplugs are affordable and easy to find, leaving you no excuse not to go get some and start protecting your hearing.
Avoid Cotton Swabs
How many of you have ever used a cotton swab to clean out your ear, specifically when removing excess wax buildup? Using a cotton swab to clean your ears is a common practice, however, it may not be the best practice. What people don’t often know is a person’s ears are self-cleaning and ear wax acts as a barrier for dust and other harmful particles to enter the ear canal. Whenever you insert anything into your ears, you run the risk of damaging sensitive structures, like the eardrum. It may be wise to seek professional help for cleaning if you feel that there is an excessive amount of wax that needs cleared.
Keep your Ears Dry
While this tip is important for everyone, this is specifically catered to those taking care of their children. When water gets trapped in the ear, it sometimes leads to an infection in the outer ear. This is called otitis externa, or more commonly known as swimmer’s ear. During the summer months specifically, your children are going to want to be in the pool. It is imperative to make sure they are properly drying their ears after each dip in the pool to avoid early hearing loss issues. Watch and make sure that their ears are gently towel-dried. If they still feel some water inside the ear canal, have them tilt their head and give a light pull on the ear lobe.
Here’s a surprising fact: Stress and anxiety are both linked to temporary and permanent tinnitus – the phantom ringing noise in your ears. When a person is feeling particularly stressed, the body can go into the fight or flight mode and your body becomes filled with adrenaline. This puts immense pressure on your nerves and spikes your blood flow and body temperature. This pressure and stress can then travel its way through the body and up into the inner ear, causing the tinnitus symptoms. While we know it’s impossible to simply cut stress out of your life, try to make a conscious effort to regularly put yourself in less stressful situations and environments to provide some balance. This is not only good for your ears and hearing, but also your overall health.
Protecting your ear health is imperative for your hearing. Many times, people don’t even know they are putting stress on their hearing until it’s too late. Following these five steps can certainly put you on the right track to having healthy ears and maintaining your hearing, but that doesn’t mean you can just stop there. Make sure to regularly visit your primary care doctor for check-ups to always keep up-to-date on your ear health. Don’t wait to act until it’s too late. Be proactive and take control of your ear health.
1902 Fox Drive, Suite F
Champaign, IL 61820