ear is divided into three regions: the outer, the middle and the
inner ear. Each of these regions can be affected by infection.
The outer ear is made up of the portion of the ear easily seen
and the ear canal. Infections most commonly involve the ear canal
and are often related to swimming. Bacteria from unclean water
can infect the canal causing pain, swelling and discharge. The
ear canal can also become infected from excessive removal of wax,
such as with Q-tips. Trauma to the thin tissue inside the ear
canal can allow bacteria and fungi normally present in the ear
canal to set up an infection. Infections in patients with diabetes
can be more serious and immediate medical attention is warranted.
middle ear is a small air-filled space behind the eardrum. Infections
of this space are the most common type of ear infection encountered
and are referred to as otitis media. 90% of children will have
had at least one episode of otitis media by the age of 3. Otitis
media often occurs in adults and children following or during
an upper respiratory infection. Swelling around the opening of
the Eustachian tube, which connects the middle ear to the nose,
leads to the accumulation of fluid in the middle ear. This fluid
can become infected from bacteria present in the nose. This is
manifest as extreme pain, fever and often hearing loss. Occasionally
the ear drum will rupture from the pressure of the infection.
This will usually heal without consequence.
media is usually treated with antibiotics. However, it may take
up to 3 months for the fluid to completely resolve behind the
ear drum. Occasionally, the fluid will not resolve and in these
cases a myringotomy or incision into the eardrum, may be necessary
to drain the fluid and restore hearing. Children who have more
than 6 ear infections a year or fluid that persists longer than
3 months may benefit from placement of a small tube into the eardrum.
This allows for drainage of fluid, a decrease in the number of
infections and improvement in your child’s hearing.
of the inner ear are rare and are usually manifest as vertigo
or whirling dizziness. Occasionally hearing loss may accompany
the spinning sensation. Extreme nausea and/or vomiting may also
be present. The vertigo usually improves slowly over time, but
may be rather incapacitating initially. Immediate attention by
an Ear, Nose and Throat Specialist is recommended.