Ear Infection: Symptoms And Causes – Types Of Ear Infections

Ear infections are bacterial or viral infections of the ear that cause pain, inflammation, and fluid buildup. Although it can affect adults, about 75% of the incidence of ear infections is reported among children. In most cases, they clear up on their own within 3 days, and are not contagious.

Ear infections can happen anywhere in the outer, middle, or inner ears. Depending on the location of the infection, the symptoms may vary. This article covers the types, symptoms, and causes of ear infections in humans.

Types Of Ear Infections

The ear is made of three parts: the outer ear, the middle ear, and the inner ear. The outer ear includes the part we can see and the ear canal that leads to the eardrum. The middle ear lies between the eardrum and the inner ear, containing several tiny bones called ossicles that amplify the sound.

Types Of Ear Infections

Finally, the inner ears are where the sounds are translated into electrical impulses and sent to the brain. This part contains eustachian tubes and the cochlea. Ear infections can be classified based on which part of the ear is infected, and they are:

  • Outer Ear Infection (otitis externa): This is the infection or inflammation of the outer ear canal, otherwise called the external auditory canal, that connects the eardrum. The outer ear infection is also known as swimmer’s ear.
  • Middle Ear Infection (acute otitis media): This is an ear infection where the middle ear becomes inflamed and infected. This is the most common type of ear infection that occurs in young children.
  • Inner Ear Infection (labyrinthitis/vestibular neuritis): Infections of the inner ear are extremely rare. It is considered an inflammatory response to a viral infection. The 2 main types of inflammatory conditions in the inner ear are labyrinthitis and vestibular neuritis. Labyrinthitis is nothing but the inflammation of the labyrinth, which is a complex system of fluid-filled channels or structures that aid hearing and balance. The latter is the inflammation of the vestibular nerves that is responsible for transmitting signals on balance and head position to the brain.

Symptoms And Causes

  • Outer Ear Infection

Symptoms: Itchiness, swelling, and redness around the outer skin or ear canal, pain around or in the ear, and discharge of pus are the major symptoms of swimmer’s ear.

Causes: Outer infection usually happens when bacteria infect the skin of the ear canal, causing irritation or damage to it.

Bacteria can enter the ear canal in different ways, such as by getting excessive moisture in the ear from swimming, bathing, or sweating; scratching or injuring the skin inside the ear canal; cleaning the ear canal with cotton swabs; and using earbuds or hearing aids.

  • Middle Ear Infection

Symptoms: Symptoms of otitis media or middle ear infections mostly develop quickly and can be resolved in a few days. Symptoms common among children include ear pain, trouble sleeping, fussiness, rubbing their ears, trouble hearing, loss of balance, high fever, fluid discharge out of the ear, headaches, and loss of appetite.

While adults show symptoms like ear pain, fluid discharge from the ear, trouble hearing, loss of appetite, feeling fullness in the ear, and fever.

Causes: Middle ear infections are caused by bacteria or viruses. They often arise from a cold or other respiratory problem, which might have caused a buildup of mucus in the middle ear and caused the eustachian tube to become swollen and blocked. Eustachian tubes are canals that connect the middle ear to the back of the nose and throat, help regulate air pressure in the ear, and prevent the accumulation of fluid in the middle ear.

If the mucus formed gets infected, the person starts showing symptoms of a middle ear infection. Another reason is the blockage of the eustachian tubes from an enlarged adenoid, which is a soft tissue present at the back of the throat. If such issues are causing recurrent ear infections, the adenoid is removed.

  • Inner Ear Infections

Symptoms: Labyrinthitis and vestibular neuritis exhibit symptoms such as noises in the ear and loss of balance in the affected individuals.

Causes: Most inner ear infections are caused by viruses such as influenza, Epstein-Barr, or herpes zoster oticus, or in response to viral infections like the common cold, chicken pox, or herpes simplex virus. Inner infections are less commonly caused by bacteria.

Read More:- Best Foods For Inner Ear Health – Sneak Peek!

Bottom Line

Ear infections are viral or bacterial infections affecting the outer, middle, and inner ears. Their symptoms may differ depending on the affected area. In most cases, symptoms may go away in a week, but if they’re recurring, they can cause severe health conditions. Hence, it is wise to get your kids and yourself tested to rule out any complications.

About the Author

Nicole Carter is a dedicated and passionate nutritionist, committed to helping individuals achieve their health and wellness goals through the power of proper nutrition. With a Bachelor's degree in Nutritional Science and years of practical experience.

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