Acute and Chronic Ear Infections

Ear infections, also known as otitis media, are extremely common, particularly in childhood. Up to 75 percent of children in the United States have had an ear infection by the time they reach the age of three. Ear infections occur in the middle ear as a result of a buildup of fluid in the Eustachian tubes, which connect the eardrum to the nose. These infections may be precipitated by bacterial or viral infections of the nose or throat or by allergy attacks.

Because of the inflammation and buildup of fluids in the middle ear, ear infections are often quite painful. In addition to earache, patients with ear infections may experience fever, ear discharge, headache and dizziness.

Many ear infections clear up on their own within 2 to 3 days. In such cases, treatment may be limited to medications to relieve pain and other symptoms. In infants and in more persistent or severe cases, ear infections are usually treated with antibiotics. Depending on several factors, doctors may also prescribe decongestants, antihistamines, and ear drops, and, to relieve pain, analgesics. When patients experience chronic ear infections, there is danger of long-term damage to the middle ear and to hearing, so more aggressive treatment is required. In addition to antibiotics, treatment of chronic ear infections may include steroids, or surgical placement of ventilation tubes into the eardrum to promote fluid drainage. Removal of the tonsils or adenoids may also be recommended.

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