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Ear Infections & Earaches - Also called: Otitis Media
Ear infections are the most common illnesses in babies and young children. Most often, the infection affects the middle ear and is called otitis media. The tubes inside the ears become clogged with fluid and mucus. This can affect hearing, because sound cannot get through all that fluid.
If your child does not yet talk, you need to look for signs of an infection:
- Tugging at ears
- Crying more than usual
- Ear drainage
- Trouble sleeping
- Balance difficulties
- Hearing problems
Often, ear infections go away on their own, but your health care provider may recommend pain relievers. Severe infections and infections in young babies may require antibiotics. Children who get frequent infections may need surgery to place small tubes inside their ears. The tubes relieve pressure in the ears so that the child can hear again.
National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders
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Your ear has three main parts: outer, middle and inner. You use all of them in hearing. Sound waves come in through your outer ear. They reach your middle ear, where they make your eardrum vibrate. The vibrations are transmitted through three tiny bones, called ossicles, in your middle ear. The vibrations travel to your inner ear, a snail-shaped organ. The inner ear makes the nerve impulses that are sent to the brain. Your brain recognizes them as sounds. The inner ear also controls balance.
A variety of conditions may affect your hearing or balance. Ear infections are the most common illness in infants and young children. Tinnitus, a roaring in your ears, can be the result of loud noises, medicines or a variety of other causes. Meniere's disease may be the result of fluid problems in your inner ear; its symptoms include tinnitus and dizziness. Some ear disorders can result in hearing disorders and deafness.
Chronic Ear Infection
Chronic ear infection is inflammation or infection of the middle ear that persists or keeps coming back, and causes long-term or permanent damage to the ear.
See also: Acute ear infection
Chronic Ear Infection Causes
For each ear, a eustachian tube runs from the middle ear to the back of the throat. This tube drains fluid that is normally made in the middle ear. If the eustachian tube becomes blocked, fluid can build up. When this happens, germs such as bacteria and viruses can multiply and cause an infection. This is called an acute ear infection (acute otitis media).
A chronic ear infection occurs when fluid or an infection behind the eardrum does not go away. A chronic ear infection may be caused by an acute ear infection that does not clear completely, or repeated ear infections. Fluid in the middle ear may become very thick. Sometimes, the eardrum (tympanic membrane) may stick to the bones in the middle ear.
A chronic ear infection may cause permanent changes to the ear and nearby bones, including:
- Infection in the mastoid bone behind the ear (mastoiditis)
- Ongoing drainage from a hole in the eardrum that does not heal, or after the ear tubes (tympanostomy tubes) are inserted
- Cyst of the middle ear (cholesteatoma)
- Hardening of the tissue in the middle ear (tympanosclerosis)
- Damage to, or wearing away of the bones of the middle ear, which help with hearing
"Suppurative chronic otitis" is a phrase doctors use to describe an eardrum that keeps rupturing, draining, or swelling in the middle ear or mastoid area and does not go away.
Ear infections are more common in children because their Eustachian tubes are shorter, narrower, and more horizontal than in adults. Chronic ear infections are much less common than acute ear infections.
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