Ear Infections: Types and Causes

Ear infections are caused by viruses and/or bacteria. They occur when the middle ear becomes build up with fluid and can result from upper respiratory infections, such as sinus infections, excess mucus, air pressure changes, smoking, or allergies.

Ear Infections

Common symptoms that Vancouver physician, Ali Ghahary, will see in patients with ear infections, include: discomfort and/or a feeling of pressure inside the ear, hearing difficulty, and pus. Young infants with ear infections may be more irritable than usual.

There are various types of ear infections, with Otitis Media being the most common. This is an infection of the middle ear and typically occurs in infants and young children. OM infections can cause pain, fever, and redness of the eardrum. Most OM ear infections are viral and often go away on their own. However, if they persist or worsen, antibiotics may be required. It some cases, Otitis Media infections can be chronic. If fluid is seen in the ear for more than 6 weeks, tubes may be necessary to help the ears drain properly. For more information on ear infections in children, click here.

Otitis Externa, also known as “swimmer’s ear” or an outer ear infection, is more common during summer months. It can be the result of frequent swimming and not keeping the ears dry. Typically, it’s easily treatable with ear drops and taking precautions to keep the ears from getting wet.

Mastoiditis, a bacterial infection of the ear, affects the bone located behind the ear. It is usually the result of otitis media spreading due to not being treated. Mastoiditis can be severe and lead to meningitis, brain injury, blood poisoning or even deafness if left untreated.

Eardrums can also rupture. This can occur as a result of having a previous ear infection, by noise or injury. A rupture eardrum will typically heal within a few weeks, but can cause temporary (and in certain cases, permanent) problems with hearing.


Bacterial Infections vs. Viral Infections

It is not unusual for Dr. Ali Ghahary’s patients to present with symptoms such as runny nose, itchy or watery eyes, headache, sore throats, nasal congestion and a cough from time to time. These symptoms are all manifestations of the common cold, otherwise known as infectious rhinitis, which is viral related and caused by the spreading of microorganisms (commonly referred to as germs.) In Canada, the common cold is responsible for as many as 40% of work absences and 30% of school absences. While these tiny microorganisms are invisible to the human eye, they exist all around us. They can live in water, dirt, counter tops, the skin and intestines, as well as certain warmer or colder climates.

Virus related germs are commonly spread via bodily fluids (mucus, pus, stool), respiratory secretions (coughing, sneezing), or touching a contaminated surface. Some common viral infections include, as mentioned before, infectious rhinitis, in addition to influenza – a highly contagious virus that attacks the respiratory system, and Hepatitis A – a disease of the liver causing fever, nausea and cramps, and is usually brought on by the ingestion of contaminated food or water.

While bacterial germs and infections can have similar symptoms to viral infections, they are considered to be much more complex. Bacterial germs can be caused by foods (under-cooked meats, unwashed fruits and vegetables – resulting in something known as E.coli), insect or animal bites, blood transfusions, and even sexual contact. Other common bacterial diseases include strep throat and staph infection. Such bacterial diseases are commonly treated with antibiotics.

hands-311366_960_720There are some simple yet important steps you can take to fight off germs:

  • Washing your hands is crucial, and you should do so using soap and warm water for at least 20 seconds. It is worth noting that, if necessary, antibacterial soap should be avoided. There have been no studies showing it to be better than regular soap, and it may in fact breed stronger and more resistant bugs.
  • Make sure your vaccinations as well as your children’s vaccinations are up to date. Vaccines play an important role in protecting against common diseases.
  • Have good nutrition and take supplements. A healthy diet is important for your overall health. Make sure that you avoid eating any meat that is raw or under-cooked, and thoroughly wash utensils. Vitamin C and zinc also support in fighting off the common cold and flu viruses, and garlic, ginger root and cinnamon also serve as great immune boosting properties.