Everything You Need To Know About Ear Infections

Everything You Need To Know About Ear Infections

You know the feeling. You wake up one morning with a throbbing ear that feels like it’s ready to explode at any instant.

Your hearing is gone in that ear, and you’ve probably got an annoying headache to add insult to injury.

You’ve just woken up with an ear infection. While they are incredibly common in small children who are still building their immune system, it’s not quite as common in adults. That means when we do get them, they are that much more painful and aggravating.

Child ear infection.

Since they aren’t as common, ear infections are often misunderstood. Today we’re going to take a look at some of the symptoms and causes of ear infections. Then we’ll go over what you can do to prevent future instances and even review some simple home remedies to help you get through your day.

What Is An Ear Infection?

Otitis media, more commonly known as an ear infection, is most often the result of a viral infection of the middle ear. The middle ear is deep within your ear behind your eardrum and shares the same air passageways as your sinuses and your respiratory tract, and is thus exposed to many of the germs that you breathe in on a daily basis.

These germs often settle right in the warm, slightly damp area of the middle ear, as it offers the perfect conditions. Your body then recognizes the germs and sends a bunch of white blood cells and fluid into the area to combat the germs. This is what causes the painful swelling and throbbing sensation.

Common Symptoms Of Ear Infections

Ear infections can range from minorly irritating to extremely painful depending on the severity of the infection and how long you’ve been sick for. Often ear infections can accompany the common cold, flu, sinus infections, and respiratory infections as well.

If you have an ear infection, you will probably know it. Here are some of the most common symptoms that you may experience:

  • Sharp, stabbing pain or a dull throbbing pain
  • A headache
  • Fluid draining out of the ear
  • Change in air pressure of the inner-ear
  • Hearing loss or muffled sounds

What Causes An Ear Infection?

Ear infections are almost always caused by a viral infection. The inside of your ear is a perfect place for germs to make their home. It’s warm, slightly damp, and shielded from the elements. Since your inner-ear is connected to the rest of your respiratory system, it’s very easy for a virus to find its way into your ear.

A woman walks in a strong wind.

However, there are certain conditions which can increase the likelihood of you contracting an ear infection, to begin with. Let's take a few minutes to go over those:

  • Cold Air- If cold air is allowed to constantly blow into your ear, it can shock your immune system and offset the normal temperature. This can be the perfect catalyst that allows a viral infection to settle into your ear. The same principle applies for swimming in cold water.
  • Swimming in Public Pools- Public swimming pools can be a breeding ground for all sorts of bacteria and viruses. The chlorine helps to kill the majority of bad bacteria, but there will always be something in the water. Chlorine also neutralizes some of your natural ear wax which can leave your ears vulnerable for the next 24 hours.
  • Working With Children- Children under 5 are notorious for contracting and sharing ear infections. They are still building up their immune systems, and in a closed environment, they will get sick several times a year. If you are a teacher or work in a daycare, then you are at a higher risk of getting ear infections.
  • Sharing Earbuds- Earbuds that go inside your ear shouldn’t be shared unless they are first properly cleaned. It’s one of the easiest and most overlooked ways that germs are transferred from one ear to the next.

Ear Infection Prevention

Unfortunately, there is no foolproof way to stop yourself from ever getting an ear infection. They are the result of a common virus similar to the common cold and are often caused by the very same viruses.

The best way to avoid getting an ear infection is to do your best to stay out of the way of germs. Try not to walk right through where somebody just sneezed or coughed, use hand sanitizer, and don’t don’t share earbuds with others.

One of the most important ways you can prevent an infection is to keep your ears protected, especially during the cold season. When you go outside, wear ear muffs or a hat to keep the cold air from blowing directly into your ear.

Also if you’re going to be swimming a public pool often, consider investing in some watertight earplugs so that germs and bacteria can’t find their way into your inner-ear.

How To Treat An Ear Infection

You may be thinking to yourself, “Well that’s great for next time, but my ear is hurting now. How do I treat it?”

Don't worry, we've got you covered. Thankfully there are quite a few ear infection treatment methods available. Sometimes the infection is mild enough just to wait it out, but other times, they can be very painful and get in the way of many of your daily activities.

Go To The Doctor

If you are experiencing severe pain, you should definitely visit the doctor. Sometimes the middle ear infection can become so swollen that you risk damaging your eardrum if you forego treatment.

Doctor checking the patient's ear.

In most cases, your doctor will usually prescribe you an oral antibiotic, some prescription ear drops and may recommend a steroid shot to calm the swelling and prevent damage.

5 Home Remedies For Ear Infections

If your ear infection isn’t severe enough to warrant a doctor’s visit, there are quite a few home remedies for ear infections that you can try with typical kitchen ingredients. Let’s look at a few.

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    Apple Cider Vinegar- Make a solution of half vinegar and half water. Soak a cotton ball in it and then let it rest in your ear for a few minutes. Apple cider vinegar is a natural antibiotic and has quite a few healing properties.
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    Tea Tree Oil- Like apple cider vinegar, tea tree oil can do wonders for viral infections. Mix a few drops of the tea tree oil with the same amount of olive oil. Use a small dropper to pick up the solution and drop it into your ear. Let it sit for a few minutes and then drain it out.
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    Warm Salt Water- Mix some iodized salt with some warm water until the salt is dissolved. Take a dropper and let it sit in your ear for a few minutes. Drain and repeat as necessary throughout the day.

Final Thoughts

Ear infections can be a pain, but thankfully they usually only last a few days at a time. Remember to always consult your doctor before trying any home remedies, and if you are experiencing severe pain, make sure you schedule an immediate appointment with your doctor. Severe swelling left untreated can cause significant damage.

Resources:
HealthLine
WebMD

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