Ear infections are something that can affect anyone, although they most often occur in children. They can be quite painful because of the fluid build-up inside the ear.

While acute ear infections are temporary, without treatment they can become chronic; meaning they either never go away or they keep recurring over and over. Chronic ear infections can do damage to the middle and inner ear, leading to hearing loss or worse.

So what are the causes of ear infections and what steps can you take to avoid them?

Causes of Ear Infections and Symptoms

An ear infection is caused when a bacterial or viral infection affects the middle ear, which is the section of the ear that is just behind the eardrum. When one of your eustachian tubes (small tubes that run from the ears to the throat) becomes swollen or blocked, air can’t reach the middle ear. This creates a vacuum and suction, which pulls fluid and germs from the nose and throat into the middle ear. The swollen tube prevents this fluid from draining, so it becomes a breeding ground for bacteria or viruses to become an ear infection.

This eustachian tube blockage can be caused by things like allergies, colds, excess mucus, sinus infections, smoking, infected or swollen adenoids or even changes in air pressure or climate.

Children are more susceptible to ear infections because their eustachian tubes are short and narrow and even a small amount of swelling can more easily cause a blockage. Children also are more involved in other risk factors like pacifier use and exposure to tobacco smoke.

What Preventative Steps Can Be Taken?

While there is no fool-proof way to avoid ear infections your entire life, there are some preventative measures that can be taken that could reduce your chances. Among these are frequent hand washing, avoiding crowded areas where bacteria and viruses congregate and avoiding secondhand smoke. If you have children, keep them away from smoke as well as places where bacteria normally fester and keep their immunizations up-to-date. Studies have also shown that babies who are breast-fed are less likely to develop ear infections.

But perhaps the most important step you can take for yourself or your children is to seek treatment as soon as symptoms start to appear. These can include a feeling of pressure or mild pain/discomfort inside your ear, fluid drainage from your ear and even hearing loss. In infants, look for increased fussiness and see a medical professional as soon as possible. Untreated infections can quickly lead to chronic and ear-damaging infections.

Treatments for ear infections can include everything from over-the-counter pain and decongestant medication to prescription antibiotics. If you are in Florida and think you may have an ear infection, contact the ear, nose and throat specialist Dr. Joshua P. Light, MD or call 561-737-8584 for a consultation.