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Ear infections

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Ear infections are common, especially in places like the Costa del Sol where many recreational activities involve swimming in pools or the sea. While they are more prevalent in children, adult ear infections can often be more serious.

Types of ear infections

Ear infections can be bacterial, viral, or fungal. There are three main types of ear infections, corresponding to the part of the organ: inner, middle, and outer.

  • Inner ear. This is the innermost part of the organ and is responsible for hearing and balance. As a result, symptoms of inner ear infection or inflammation (otitis interna) often include dizziness, vertigo, nausea, and sudden hearing loss. Inner ear infections are typically caused by viruses, such as the flu, or when a middle ear infection spreads to the inner ear.
  • Middle ear. This is the area right behind the eardrum. Middle ear infection (otitis media) is the most common type of ear infection and is usually caused by trapped fluid. This causes bacteria to spread and the eardrum to swell, producing pain, fever, and trouble hearing.
  • Outer ear. This is the more visible part of the organ, consisting of the ear canal and the auricle. An outer ear infection (otitis externa) is also commonly known as “swimmer’s ear” and is usually caused by trapped fluid and scratching.

When to see a doctor

Most ear infections are minor and clear up after a few days. A pharmacist may offer some relief in the form of acidic eardrops to stop fungal or bacterial spread. See a doctor if your earache lasts longer than 3 days and display any of the following symptoms:

  • High fever
  • Swelling around the ear
  • Ear discharge
  • Hearing loss
  • Feeling of general malaise, dizziness or severe sore throat

Ear infections are particularly prevalent amongst children under the age of 3 and the #1 reason why parents bring their children to the doctor. This is because their bodies are underdeveloped, so their ears are not efficient at draining fluid nor is their immune system efficient at fighting off infections.

Symptoms a young child or baby may have an ear infection include:

  • They rub or pull their ear
  • They do not react to some sounds
  • They seem generally irritable or restless
  • They appear to have lost their appetite
  • They have trouble maintaining their balance

Prevention

Ear infections cannot always be prevented, especially inner ear ones. However, Hospital Ochoa is happy to offer some general tips that reduce the chance of bacterial infections in the middle and outer parts of the ear:

  • Do not stick anything deep in your ears, including cotton wool buds or fingers.
  • Try to avoid water getting inside your ears when you shower, bathe or swim. Consider using earplugs.
  • Dry your ears after swimming or washing. Try pull back the ear a little to help drain water or use a hairdryer.
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