Acute middle ear infection is a viral or bacterial infection that penetrates into the middle ear cavity and causes inflammation. Becuase of the inflammation, the Eustachian tube – which connects the middle ear cavity with the upper part of the pharynx – swells and clogs. During the bacterial infection, a pus is formed in the middle ear cavity.
This disorder usually occurs after an infection in the nose and throat area, such as colds, when microbes travel through the Eustachian tube into the middle ear. In some cases, infections occur after eardrum perforation, which allows microbes to enter the middle ear. In children, catarrh of the Eustachian tube and middle ear may be the cause of recurrences.
The patient usually feels ”fullness” in ears, accompanied by a strong pain that can prevent sleep. Other symptoms are elevated temperature and partial deafness. If the infection is bacterial and is not treated, the pressure of the pus inside the middle ear can eventually penetrate the eardrum, resulting in a reducing pain after the pus discharges from the ear.
This discomfort is very common in children; at least half of them have a middle ear inflammation due to narrow Eustachian tube and adenoid vegetation, i.e. enlarged third tonsil, meaning that children are prone to infections. In addition, their Eustachian tube is shorter than in adults, and infections (e.g. common flu viruses) penetrate more easily from the nose and throat into the middle ear.
If the infection is viral, the danger is minimal. However, if the infection is bacterial and the patient is delaying the treatment, there is a risk of chronic infection or spreading of the infection on the pneumatic cells and, in that case, an operation, known as mastoidectomy, will be required.
What to do?
This infection does not require urgent treatment, but you should contact your doctor as soon as possible. The doctor will look at your ears with an otoscope and can usually diagnose the condition without any other tests/eaminations.
If you are having a cold, you can reduce the possibility of spreading the middle ear infection if you follow the instructions below; use menthol lozenges to unblock nose channels – this reduces the risk of swelling in the Eustachian tube and spreading the infections – and also, make sure that water does not enter your ear.
Self-help: take Aspirin to reduce the pain, and to avoid the possibility of spreading the infection, put a dry, clean cloth on your ear.
Professional help: your doctor may prescribe a vasoconstrictor, such as a nose drops or a nose spray, to unblock the Eustachian tube and thereby allow the pus, which is created during the infection, to drop in the nose and throat. Your doctor may also prescribe antibiotic treatment that usually completely eliminates bacterial infection. If the infection is viral, the antibiotic will prevent secondary bacterial infection.
If the eardrum is swollen, the doctor will cut it slightly to ease the pressure of the pus, and thus relieve the pain. If the patient is a child, it will be done in the hospital under the general anesthesia. The eardrum will heal by itself, and the hearing will come back.