Ear infections are extremely painful – so how are they caused, what are the symptoms and more importantly what can you do to resolve ear infections?
Symptoms of ear infections
An infection of the outer ear – or Otitis Externa as its otherwise known – has three symptoms: blockage of the ear, pain and discharge from the affected ear.
Swimmers often get it when swimming pool water mixes with ear wax, causing it to expand and block off the ear canal.
Ear infections usually come on after some form of trauma - which can be itching the ear, scratching the ear, putting objects like hair clips in the ear, removal of wax etc. The trauma causes damage to the lining of the ear, which sets up an infection.
Sometimes the infection can be so bad the whole ear swells up, and the face in front of the ear can be inflamed.
The main alternative diagnosis to Otitis Externa is furunculosis of the ear, which is when a hair follicle in the ear canal becomes inflamed and forms an abscess - effectively creating a boil within the ear.
Elderly insulin dependent diabetics can also develop infection of the bone of the deep part of the canal - this osteitis is also known as malignant otitis externa, which can be life threatening
Treatment for ear infections
Treatment of ear infections is almost always with topical antibiotic and steroid drops or sprays.
Sometimes the ear canal is so swollen, a sponge ear pack needs to be inserted temporarily.
An Ear, Nose and Throat surgeon is usually needed, to remove debris from deep in the ear canal that bugs feed on - this is called microsuction, and is performed using an operating microscope.
The main bugs or pathogens causing this condition are either bacteria (Pseudomonas Aeruginosa, Escherichia Coli, Staphylococcus Epidermidis) or fungal (Candida Albicans, Aspergillus Niger). Antibiotic and steroid drops are very effective at killing these pathogens.
Longer term, once the infection has settled, the use of mild steroid creams for the ear canal may help prevent itching, which is what triggered the problem originally.