Ear infections and childhood go hand in hand because kids get them so easily. During the early stages of development, their eustachian tubes — the passageway between the nose, throat, and ears — are small, short, and parallel to the ground, so they don’t drain efficiently.
When mucus builds up because of colds or allergies, bacteria set up shop and infect the tissues.
Adults don’t get ear infections as frequently as kids do, but that doesn’t mean they’re immune to them. Dr. James Lee at Woodstock Family Practice & Urgent Care in Woodstock, Georgia, helps children and adults deal with ear infections and their underlying causes. Here’s what you need to know about adult ear infections.
Types of ear infections
There are three main types of ear infections that can affect you at any age, each named for the part of the ear they infect: inner ear, middle ear, and outer ear. An outer ear infection affects the part of your ear you see and touch, and it’s typically caused by some kind of injury, like a cut or abrasion.
An inner ear infection is rare and may indicate a serious health condition, such as meningitis. If your inner ear is inflamed or infected, you may feel nauseated and dizzy.
Middle ear infections are the most common type. This condition, also called otitis media, happens when fluid gets trapped behind your eardrum. As your eardrum swells, you may feel pain, as well as a sense that your ear is filled or plugged, which hinders your hearing. You might also notice some drainage.
Why adults get ear infections
Like children, adults get middle ear infections when fluid remains in the eustachian tubes. Under normal circumstances, these tubes rest in a closed position until you chew, swallow, or yawn. Then, they open up to regulate changes of pressure and allow fluid to drain out though your throat.
When eustachian tubes get clogged or blocked, however, pressure builds up inside your ear, causing pain and diminished hearing.
The most common cause of this blockage comes from upper respiratory infections, colds, flu, and allergies. If you get frequent colds or have seasonal allergies, you may be more susceptible to ear infections.
Smoking, even being around second-hand smoke, can also increase your risk for ear infections, because it damages the tissues in your throat and nose and compromises your immune system.
Will ear infections get better on their own?
Some ear infections resolve on their own. Often, they get better when the underlying cause goes away. But in some cases, they hang on. If your ear still hurts after your cold clears up or your allergies have calmed down, make an appointment at Woodstock Family Practice & Urgent Care.
If you have the following symptoms, come in right away:
- Severe pain
- Hearing loss
When you need urgent care, we offer same-day and walk-in appointments. Dr. Lee may prescribe antibiotics to help you fight the infection, ear drops that go straight to the source, pain relievers, or anti-inflammatories.
More important, he investigates the reason for your ear infections and treats the underlying cause to help you avoid repeat infections.
Left untreated, ear infections can lead to permanent hearing loss, so don’t ignore the symptoms. To schedule an appointment, call or book online.