Ear infections are much more common in children than adults, but that doesn’t mean grown-ups can’t be susceptible. Unlike childhood ear infections that tend to be minor and resolve quickly, adult ear infections are sometimes the sign of a more serious health problem.
Types of Ear Infections
There are three types of ear infections, depending on the part of the ear that is affected.
Inner Ear Infection
Inner ear infections may actually be a case of inflammation rather than a bacterial infection. Symptoms include ear pain, dizziness and nausea/vomiting.
Inner ear problems may also be a sign of a serious infection like meningitis.
Middle Ear Infection
Middle ear infections are also known as otitis media, and are caused by fluid becoming trapped behind the eardrum, causing it to bulge. In addition to an earache, this causes a sense of fullness, drainage and a fever. You may also have trouble hearing.
These types of infections often originate from a cold or other respiratory problem and move through the eustachian tubes, causing swelling and inflammation.
Outer Ear Infection
The outer ear is the part of the ear that extends from your eardrum to the pinna, which is the external part you can see. Another name for this type of infection is otitis externa. This type of infection usually starts as an itchy rash that can lead to pain, tenderness, redness and swelling.
Swimmer’s ear is the most common type of outer ear infection. This is the result of water becoming trapped in the ear canal after swimming or bathing. The moisture is a breeding ground for bacteria, which can be dangerous if there is a scratch or irritation in the outer lining of the ear.
Risk Factors for Ear Infections
The reason children tend to get more ear infections than adults is because of the size and orientation of their eustachian tubes. The eustachian tubes are responsible for regulating ear pressure and allowing fluids to drain. Children’s eustachian tubes are much shorter and more horizontal than adults’, meaning fluid becomes trapped more easily.
It may be the case if you’re an adult that gets frequent ear infections that your eustachian tubes are small or haven’t developed enough of a slope.
You’re also at increased risk if you smoke or are frequently exposed to secondhand smoke, as well as if you have allergies.
For more information or to schedule an appointment, call Arizona Desert ENT Specialists.