Seek medical treatment for ear infections to prevent complications

Has your ear been hurting lately? Is it itchy? Have you felt that you can’t hear as well in that ear? Is there some fluid coming out of your ear?

If you have children, have you noticed your child pulling or tugging at an ear? Maybe he or she seems to not hear as well in one ear, or loses balance and trips more easily than before?

Ear infections are very common. They are more common in children than in adults, but adults can still get them. In adults, they sometimes occur after a cold, picking your ears, or swimming. Having a weakened immune system, such as from diabetes or cancer, can increase your risk of developing ear infections.

Ears can be infected in different places — sometimes the infection is in the outer part of the ear canal, sometimes it is in the middle, and sometimes the infection can spread to other tissues in the head, and even into the brain!

The outer part of the ear can get infected from picking at your ears, such as with your finger or with a cotton swab. It is a common myth that one should use cotton swabs to clean the ears — it is easy to damage the ear with swabs, and it is safer to clean with a damp cloth on the outside of the ear without inserting an object inside the ear. Water from swimming or chemicals like soaps can also get into the ear and lead to infections.

The middle part of the ear can get infected as a result of allergies, a cold, or other infections.

Thankfully, ear infections are less common now with the help of vaccines, and there are antibiotics to treat them. Sometimes the cause is a virus rather than a type of bacteria, and antibiotics are not needed. It is important to see your doctor when you think you may have an ear infection to see what treatment you may need.

It is also very important to seek medical attention to help prevent serious complications of ear infections. Some serious complications include: long-term hearing loss, meningitis, infection of the tissues of the head and brain, facial paralysis, and more.