Middle Ear Infections – Explanation and Causes

The middle ear is influenced severly by infections. During middle ear infections the middle ear produces fluid that can not be properly drained. The build up of fluid can cause pain and temporary hearing loss.

The ear has three distinct parts: the outer, the middle and the inner ear. Sound waves first travel through the outer ear into the ear canal and then vibrate the ear drum.

Eustachian tube and ear drum

Eustachian tube and ear drum

The ear drum is connected to three tiny bones in the middle ear. The vibration is passed to the cochlea in the middle ear, where it is processed and sent to the brain.

An ear infection occurs in the middle ear. Normally, fluid in the middle ear drains down the Eustachian tubes and into the back of the throat. During an ear infection the middle ear produces fluid that can not be properly drained by the Eustachian tubes. The build up of fluid can cause pain and temporary hearing loss.

Otitis media is more common in children because of the length and position of their Eustachian tubes. Management by a doctor is required to treat this condition.

A Middle ear infection is most commonly characterized by a sharp throbbing ear pain sensation. Generally, there are two types of a middle ear infection: Chronic ear infection and an acute ear infection.

A chronic middle ear infection refers to a chronic inflammation that causes swelling of the ear. This condition results after repetitive severe middle ear infections, and is usually not accompanied by pain, rather by impaired hearing.

An acute middle ear infection is an inflammation of the middle ear that is most often caused by bacteria and follows an infection or allergy related to the upper respiratory tract.

Acute middle ear infections are the most common among ear infections. Recent studies have shown no significant differences during the acute stage of the infection with or without antibiotic treatment.

Acute middle ear infections usually clear out over time without the need to prescribe antibiotics. However, when comparing recurrences, studies indicate that children who received antibiotic treatment experience more frequent episodes of acute ear infections.  That is, children who do not use antibiotics have a smaller chance to suffer from frequent ear infections (“Children’s Ear Infections: Helping Naturally”)

Complications of acute ear infections include spreading of the infection to the nearby skull and brain, an extremely uncommon risk (0.2 to 2%). There is no real evidence documenting that the risk of this complication is reduced by administrating antibiotics.

Middle ear infections in children

Most ear infections in children result due to a functional disorder of the Eustachian tubes. The roles of the Eustachian tube include regulation of pressure inside the middle ear, protecting the middle ear from nose and throat secretions containing bacteria, and drainage of fluids out of the middle ear.

In infants and children the structure of the Eustachian tubes is not fully developed compared to adults. The shorter and narrower structure of the Eustachian tubes turn them more easily clogged. Blocked Eustachian tubes lead to fluid buildup which may constitute a fertile substrate for the growth of bacteria. This bacteria growth is the infection, causing pressure on the ear drum.

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