Otitis Media Explanation

Otitis Media (OM) is a painful middle ear infection that occurs when the area behind the eardrum becomes infected and inflamed. This can lead to a build-up and subsequent leakage of yellow fluid or runny ear-wax. It can also lead to a perforated ear drum (tympanic membrane).

This ear infection is more common amongst children, however adults can and do, suffer from Otitis Media. The most common form of ear infection for adults however tends to be Otitis Externa – an outer ear infection also known as swimmers ear. This is because it is commonly caused by infected water laying in the outer ear, where it can cause bacteria to grow and infect the ear.

Otitis media with effusion – more commonly known as glue ear, is particularly common amongst young children and is caused by a collection of fluid that occurs in the middle ear space usually as a result of the dysfunction of the Eustachian tube.

middle ear infection

Diagram showing the working parts of the inner ear where the ear infection may occur

Causes of Ear Infection:

Infection of the middle ear is frequently caused by a viral or bacterial infection of water lodged in the ear. This is usually after a trip to the swimming pool. Washing your hair, or other circumstances that can create these conditions.

This back-up of fluid in the ear occurs when the Eustachian tube that drains fluid from the middle ear to the back of the throat, becomes blocked or partially blocked and prevents the fluid from draining away naturally.

This fluid becomes infected either by a bacterial or viral infection, thus causing pain, leaking ears, and perhaps a high fever in the patient.

Eustachian Tube Blockage:

There are several circumstances and medical conditions that can cause the Eustachian tube to be blocked, these include…

  • Sinus infection perhaps caused by the common cold.
  • Allergies such as hay fever
  • Kinked or twisted Eustachian tube
  • Swollen adenoids
  • Damage to the ear as a result of a blow to the head or ear itself


Symptoms of Ear Infection:

children ear ache

A Crying Child at bedtime is often a sign of ear ache caused by an ear infection

There are many symptoms associated with ear infections. The list below includes many common symptoms and patients can be affected by one or several of these infection indicators at any one time.

  • Ears running with a pus-like substance, or an over accumulation of runny ear wax
  • Pain or discomfort in the middle ear, possibly leading to headaches and nausea.
  • Temperature rise – this is especially the case in young children and is an immediate cause to seek medical advice. Crying and general irritability at bedtime can often be a symptom of an ear infection.
  • A persistent feeling of pressure in the ear that will not go away.
  • Dullness of hearing or even total hearing loss
  • Loss of balance or general dizziness – this can also be a symptom of Meniere’s disease
  • Redness in the outer ear accompanied by heat and pain.
  • Ringing or whining noise in the ears, commonly known as tinnitus


Home Treatment For Ear-ache:

For minor ear infections these home-remedies or ideas can be very effective. However if the condition persists then a visit to a doctor is recommended. In the case of children and/or high temperatures, then a visit to a medical practitioner is ALWAYS recommended whenever possible.

A warm cloth or hot water bottle applied to the ear for a few minutes at a time can help relieve the pain. A compress made by soaking a cloth in hot water then rinsing it out, can be applied to the infected ear.

checking for ear infection

An Otoscope can be used to check the ear canal and the tympanic membrane or eardrum

Apple cider vinegar can be added to equal parts water and soaked into a cotton wool ball. Plug your ear with this ball and leave for 5 minutes or so before removing. Lay down on your side with the infected ear down on a cloth to drain away the fluid. Repeat 3-4 times throughout the day.

Olive Oil is recommended to soften and clear away ear wax – a common cause of infection. Slightly warm up some extra virgin olive oil in a pan and apply 2-3 drops into your ear to soften the ear wax. This can then be removed by syringing out the ear with warm salty water.

Garlic also makes an excellent infusion as garlic itself has recognised anti-bacterial properties. Boil up a couple of cloves of garlic in a cup of water. After it has cooled then soak into a cotton wad and follow the instructions for the apple cider vinegar.  Alternatively warm a clove of garlic in a saucepan with some olive oil for a few minutes. After cooling, strain through a cloth and apply the oil as per the olive oil instruction above.

Tea-tree oil mixed with apple cider vinegar and olive/garlic oil offers a good treatment for an ear infection, encompassing as it does the anti-bacterial qualities of tea tree and garlic oil along with the wax-softening qualities of olive oil. Mix in equal parts 2/2/2 and laying on your side apply the liquid to the ear. Leave for 5 minutes or so before turning on your other side and letting the liquid drain away completely. Repeat this procedure 2 or 3 times throughout the day.

These are just some of the more popular home remedies to treat ear infection. It is worth noting here that if you do not see positive results within 2-3 days then you should seek advice from a doctor to be sure there are no underlying medical conditions that need addressing.

In some case a course of antibiotics or ant-viral drugs may have to be considered, or indeed in some cases a medical procedure may have to be carried out.

Administering Ear Drops:

No matter whether it is a home remedy or a doctor’s prescription for ear drops, unless they are administered correctly then they will not have the desired effect at all – namely curing ear-ache or ear infection.

Sometimes administering ear-drops requires 2 people – especially in the case of a squirming child! But even as an adult, sometimes it is difficult to be absolutely sure the drops land in the right place, and not just run down your cheek!

With that in mind, here a few simple steps to take in order to administer ear drops correctly.

  • Get your drops prepared and warmed up to room temperature.
  • Get some assistance from a friend if possible to apply the drops.
  • Fold a towel and lay it down on the floor. Lay on your side with the towel under your head – infected ear upwards.
  • Have your assistant (if you have one) gently pull your ear-lobe up and out to straighten the auditory tube.
  • Apply 2 or three drops according to instructions and continue laying on your side for 5 minutes or so.
  • Turnover on to your side and allow the excess fluid to drain away.
  • If the infection is in both ears then repeat the process as outlined above.
  • Clean away and dry any excess fluid.
  • Repeat 2-3 times throughout the day or as per instructions from your doctor.


What happens if a middle ear infection has resulted in tinnitus?

This is fairly common amongst tinnitus sufferers – an infection in the ear has been healed perhaps with the help of anti-biotics. However since this they have been bothered with all the symptoms of tinnitus.

Unfortunately there is not a ‘one-size-fits-all’ remedy to this, and the patient usually has to try several different ideas – after consulting a specialist perhaps – before finding the right remedy for themselves.

One of the top treatments for this seems to be ‘retraining the Brain’ to ignore the sounds of tinnitus.

Others could be diet or lifestyle change.

Finally, when treating a middle ear infection, always watch out for any adverse reaction that a patient may have to ear-drops. Any cause for concern should immediately be referred to a doctor or medical practitioner.

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