Just because beach days and afternoons by the pool may be coming to a close for other parts of the country doesn’t mean that Texans won’t be around water for a few more months. Chances are you’ve experienced an ear infection or two in your lifetime, and as long as you’ll be by a pool, in a hot tub or taking baths and showers, it’s a good idea to brush up on the types of ear infections, symptoms to watch for and how to prevent and avoid a painful situation.
It May Not Be Swimmer’s Ear
While swimmer’s ear (also called otitis extrerna) is perhaps the most well-known type of ear infection, it’s not the only kind, and it’s not even the most common. Here are the three types of ear infections you need to keep an eye out for:
- Swimmer’s ear (otitis externa, or external ear infection) – Bacteria live in warm, dark places. Settling into your ear canal after a swim or shower is the perfect environment for bacteria to thrive. This type of ear infection happens when bacteria infect the skin of your ear canal and it becomes swollen, sometimes swelling shut.
- Middle ear infections (otitis media) – These ear infections are the most common, especially in children. Middle ear infections happen when the space behind the ear drum becomes infected, causing pain and pressure. Pus will often develop behind the ear drum and if left to accumulate too long, the eardrum will rupture.
- Inner ear infections – Inner ear infections are typically painless and are caused by a virus. These types of infections are located within the skull behind the ear, so diagnoses are usually based on audiograms or MRIs.
Symptoms that May Signal an Ear Infection
Symptoms for ear infections may start mild, but can progress rapidly. Here are symptoms associated with each type of infection:
- Swimmer’s ear – itching inside the ear canal, redness within the ear, discomfort, pain associated with pulling on your outer ear, drainage, decreased or muffled hearing, swollen ear canal and fever. Call your doctor or visit the emergency room immediately if you’re experiencing severe pain or fever.
- Middle ear infection – ear pain particularly when lying down, drainage of fluid from ear, loss of hearing and feeling of pressure behind your ear drum. See your doctor if your ear pain lasts for more than a day or the ear pain is severe.
- Inner ear infection – usually painless, but patients typically experience vertigo and. in some cases, hearing loss.
If you think you have an ear infection, don’t delay seeking treatment. Neglect of these types of infections can cause permanent changes to the ear, surrounding bone and parts of the face. This can include cysts, infection of the mastoid bone behind the ear, permanent hearing loss, inflammation around the brain or paralysis of the face. While most cases never progress to these levels, it’s important to know the potential danger and to seek medical attention as soon as possible.
Protecting Your Ears
While there isn’t much you can do to protect yourself from inner ear infections, you can work to prevent middle and outer ear infections. Because these two types of infections are bacterial, practicing good hygiene and not damaging the skin that lines your ear canal can play a big part in prevention. Be sure to wash your hands and avoid sticking fingers, cotton swabs or other objects into your ear because these can damage skin and allow bacteria to get in.
Another thing you can do is keep your ears dry. This can be accomplished by using ear plugs when in the water and by putting a drying solution in your ears after you get out of the pool, ocean or shower. Talk to your doctor about what drops they suggest, or ask if they have a recipe from ingredients you likely have in your home.
Keep in mind that symptoms of ear infections can progress quickly. If you have any inclination that you’ve got an ear infection, call your doctor and schedule an appointment as soon as you can.
Dr. Borski is a board-certified Ear. Nose and Throat specialist at Kelsey-Seybold’s Main Campus. His clinical interests include nasal and sinus surgery, and thyroid and parathyroid surgery. He is trained in balloon sinuplasty and believes this procedure is a good tool for treating sinus problems using a minimally invasive approach.