EAR, NOSE & THROAT
Fluid & Recurrent Ear Infections
The pressure of fluid in your ears and/or recurrent ear infections can be both annoying and uncomfortable. As an adult, you may not have much trouble with recurrent ear infections, but you may experience consistent fluid pressure. If you have allergies or prone to cold and flu, you are more susceptible to fluid build up in your ears. Ear infections are rare in adults but common in children. Both conditions can make you feel miserable, but they are easily treatable.
The ear is divided into three parts: the outer ear, middle ear, and inner ear. The outer ear is primarily the part you see as well as the ear canal. The middle ear contains the eardrum and ossicles (three bones of the ear). The inner ear stores the ear fluid. The structures of the inner ear include the cochlea, auditory nerves, auditory tube (Eustachian tube), oval window and semicircular ducts. Each structure of the ear is essential and contributes to our ability to hear. When one part is either infected or dysfunctioning, it affects every other part of the ear and can bring a lot of pain and discomfort. In the case of ear infections, they occur in either the outer or middle ear. Fluid, on the other hand, is not a bad thing. The problem happens when that fluid builds up and unable to drain. The drainage of fluid is associated with the auditory or Eustachian tubes.
Fluid & Eustachian Tubes
The Eustachian tubes are found in the middle ear. They connect the middle ear to the back of the throat. They assist in equalizing air pressure in the ears as well as draining fluid from the ears. The fluid itself is not a bad thing, but when it is unable to flow out of the ear, it can cause problems. When these tubes become blocked, mainly due to inflammation from other factors such as allergies, colds, or sinus infections, the fluid will build up in the middle ear. This fluid build up will get infected and create pressure against the eardrum. Symptoms include pain, ringing, and sometimes dizziness. This fluid buildup is what leads to middle ear infections.
There are two types of ear infections: otitis media and otitis externa. They are named based on their location in the ear. Ear Infections are rare in adults but more frequent in children. You will notice ear infections, especially otitis media, in children more often due to the structure of their Eustachian tube. With their Eustachian tube not being fully developed, it is more narrow and lies in a more horizontal position; this makes drainage a little more difficult. Adults who swim a lot, frequently travel in airplanes, have allergy problems, or inflammation of the tissues of the nose or throat are more susceptible to ear infections but otitis externa. Smokers are also prone to recurrent ear infections.
Middle ear infections, also known as otitis media are a result of fluid build up. Middle ear infections are seen more in children. They can be seen in adults who have other sinus related issues and Eustachian tube dysfunction. In otitis media, the fluid that is supposed to drain in the back of the throat by the Eustachian tubes gets clogged. Many times bacteria will find its way to this fluid and cause an ear infection. When you are sick, the mucus builds up makes it even harder for those tubes to drain. Allergy season is peak season for ear infections. The inflammation in the sinus cavity prevents fluid from being able to drain properly.
Outer ear infections, known as Swimmer’s ear or otitis externa, are frequent among swimmers. The water that enters the ear may contain bacteria that rest in the ear canal and cause infections. After swimming you typically shake the water out of your ears. Sometimes the water does not completely leave the ear and bacteria gets stuck. The bacteria will invade the skin of the ear canal and bring about ear pain and irritation. You may feel persistent itching and see redness. Outer ear infections can be treated with ear drops. In severe cases hearing may be muffled, and drainage will occur. Otitis externa can also happen if you scratch the ear canal. The scratch can get infected if not properly cared for.
Treating Fluid & Recurrent Ear Infections
As stated earlier, eardrops are typically given for otitis externa. With middle ear infections, antibiotics are given. The antibiotics are used to kill the bacteria in the middle ear. The swelling will eventually go down and pressure leaves with the drainage of the fluid. In children, treatment for recurrent ear infections may require surgery. An ENT specialist will place tubes through the child’s eardrum in the hope that the tubes will help drain the fluid that persistently builds up in a child’s ear. Tubes are not typically used for adults especially since adults are less prone to middle ear infections.
Fluid and ear infections can sometimes go hand in hand. Fluid is the main cause of both middle and outer ear infections. If you are a swimmer, it would be a good idea to get ear plugs to keep water out of your ears. Ear plugs can decrease the likelihood of ear infections. Fluid in the ears does not always lead to ear infections, but it is good to keep your airways open. If you suffer from allergies or frequent sinus infections, you should stick to an antihistamine regimen to keep inflammation down. As always, if you feel any abnormal ear pain or pressure be sure to see your physician.
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