How to Prevent Ear Infections
Since ear infections are common in young children and infants, they become a serious concern for many parents who aren’t sure how to prevent them.
Ear infections cause painful earaches, but they can also result in temporary hearing loss. In severe cases, enough pressure can build up and burst the eardrum.
Although most ear infections heal on their own, many children experience them regularly, and parents don’t know how to prevent them.
Today we’ll discuss what causes ear infections, the symptoms of ear infections and the steps you can take to reduce the risk of ear infections in yourself and your children.
What Causes Ear Infections?
A range of things can cause ear infections, including
- Bacteria, fungi or viruses entering the ear canal
- A malfunction in the Eustachian tube (that connects the ear and throat)
The human ear is made up of three parts, which include the outer ear, the middle ear and the inner ear. When any of these three parts become infected, it can be painful. However, ear infections are most commonly caused by a malfunction in the Eustachian tube.
The Eustachian tube is a narrow tube that connects the throat and middle ear. Its purpose is to equalise the pressure between the outer and middle ear and drain fluid from the middle ear. However, if it doesn’t function properly, it can cause a fluid build-up behind the eardrum.
When this happens, and the fluid cannot drain, bacteria, fungi, and viruses can develop in the ear, leading to a middle ear infection.
Due to anatomical differences, children are more prone to middle ear infections than adults.
Symptoms of an Ear Infection
- Pain in the ear
- A feeling of fullness in the ear
- Ear discharge
- Nausea and vomiting
- Mild hearing loss
- Muffled sounds
What are the health risks associated with untreated ear infections?
If left untreated, ear infections can lead to a range of serious health complications, including
- If ear infections occur frequently or never heal, they can lead to temporary hearing loss.
- In rare cases, untreated ear infections can lead to permanent hearing loss.
- An infection of the bones in the ear, known as mastoiditis, can occur with symptoms such as redness, swollen ear lobes and headaches.
- Meningitis, an infection of the membranes surrounding the brain and spinal cord.
- A brain abscess can occur when pus gathers in the brain.
- If there is too much fluid build-up in the eardrum, it can lead to a ruptured eardrum. Although 90% of ruptured eardrums heal on their own.
Tips to Reduce The Risk of Ear Infections
As mentioned above, if ear infections are left untreated, they can become serious and cause permanent damage. Therefore, doing everything you can to prevent the risk of infections is essential.
Here are some things you can do to reduce the risk of ear infections:
1. Good standard of hygiene
One of the easiest ways to prevent ear infections is to practice good hygiene, such as washing your hands.
Washing your hands after touching objects and surfaces, before and after using the bathroom and shaking someone’s hand is essential as you can easily get bacteria on your hands and touch your ear, which can lead to an infection.
By simply washing your hands regularly, you can easily reduce the transmission of germs to your ears.
2. Flu vaccines
Evidence has shown that taking preventative measures against flu with a vaccine produced four per cent fewer cases of otitis media ear infections.
Although the reduction is slight, it shows that getting vaccinated as a preventative measure against the flu can reduce ear infections in adults and children.
3. Keep your ears dry while swimming
A common way to pick up ear infections is while swimming, so it’s essential to practice good hygiene in the water and keep your ears as dry as possible.
Although people may find it hard to keep their ears dry while swimming, you can take some easy measures, such as wearing swimming caps or earplugs.
If you choose to get earplugs, it’s essential to see your audiologist as they may recommend custom-made earplugs for swimming.
Even if you take these measures, you should always dry your ears after swimming.
4. Eat and drink upright
Children are more prone to ear infections, so one of the best things to prevent the risk is to ensure they sit upright when eating and drinking, especially infants.
Young children and infants who are bottle-fed lying down or in a semi-sitting position can easily fall asleep with their bottle. When this happens, liquid can enter the Eustachian tube and travel to the middle ear, resulting in an ear infection.
To Sum It Up
Ear infections are often extremely painful and, if left untreated, can cause hearing loss, ruptured eardrums and other serious conditions.
Therefore, the best thing to do is take preventative measures to reduce the risk of ear infections in yourself and your children.
Although the steps may be easy, if you are unsure how to protect your hearing and ears from infection, book an appointment with your nearest Attune audiologist to discuss your concerns and identify any risk factors for ear infections.