What is Ear Inflammation?

Marjorie McAtee

Ear inflammation, or swelling and redness of the ear, is often associated with ear infection, or otitis. Otitis of the outer ear is usually known as otitis externa, while otitis of the middle ear is usually known as otitis media. Bacterial and viral agents are most often responsible for ear infections. In addition to ear inflammation, ear infections can cause symptoms such as pain, hearing loss, discharge, and dizziness. While most ear infections aren't serious, severe ear infections can cause complications such as hearing loss.

Ear infections often result in ear inflammation.
Ear infections often result in ear inflammation.

Some people may be more vulnerable to ear infections, especially otitis externa. Because otitis externa affects the ear canal, it is considered less likely than otitis media to spread to the inner ear, where serious damage to hearing can occur. Most cases of otitis externa heal in about a week with appropriate treatment.

Ear inflammation typically affects the outer or middle ear.
Ear inflammation typically affects the outer or middle ear.

Otitis externa symptoms can include ear inflammation, itching, discharge and ear pain. Swelling of the ear canal can cause some temporary hearing impairment or hearing loss in the affected ear. This kind of ear inflammation usually occurs in people sensitive to irritants. Even plain water can irritate the ear canal, compromising the skin barrier and opening the door for viruses and bacteria to infect the ear.

Some people are vulnerable to ear inflammation. Otitis externa often occurs again and again in those susceptible people. Keeping the ears clean, dry and free of irritants such as soap or hairspray can help prevent otitis externa.

Otitis media, or middle ear infection, may be most common in children. Many children suffer this infection of the eustachian tube when a head cold or flu causes fluid accumulation in the middle ear. The presence of this fluid makes it easier for bacteria and viruses to gain a foothold in the middle ear.

Symptoms of middle ear infection can include discharge, hearing impairment, fever, and general feelings of malaise. Dizziness can occur in some cases. Ear inflammation caused by otitis medis often isn't visible, since the eustachian tubes are located beyond the ear canal and ear drum. Nevertheless, intense pain and itchiness can occur when the eustachian tube becomes infected. Without treatment, infections of the middle ear can spread to the inner ear, damaging the structures that allow hearing and leading to permanent hearing impairment or loss.

Ear infections are typically treated with antibiotics. Drops, sprays, or oral antibiotics may be prescribed, depending on the severity of the infection. Painkillers may be administered if the discomfort is severe. Some physicians may wish to thoroughly clean the ear canal in order to promote healing.

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