The ear has three sections; the outer ear (or ear canal), the middle ear (the space behind the ear drum) and the inner ear (where the neural hearing and balance structures lie). Any one of these sections can become infected and the symptoms patients present with will differ depending on which section of the ear is infected. Occasionally multiple sections of the ear can be infected.
Outer ear infections are typically very painful and there is often discharge from the ear. The ear canal may swell and close up causing hearing loss and complaints of fullness. These ear infections may spread to involve the external ear (or pinna) causing excruciating pain and swelling. Outer ear infections are often associated with exposure of the ear to water and are sometimes referred to as “swimmer’s ear”. In Queensland we tend to see these infections more over the summer months. These infections are best treated with topical drops/creams and suctioning (or ear toilet) to remove any infectious material in the ear canal. Syringing the ear may worsen the problem by again introducing water into the canal. Dr Hodge has microsuctioning equipment available at both the City and Kippa-Ring rooms to treat these outer ear infections.
Middle ear infections are more typically seen in children rather than adults, though they can occur in all age groups. The most common presenting symptom is pain, often accompanied by fevers and being generally unwell. Typically, there is pus or fluid behind the ear drum which can interfere with hearing. Occasionally the fluid and pressure behind the ear drum can build up enough that it ruptures the ear drum causing discharge and a perforation in the ear drum. Depending on the severity and cause of the ear infection, middle ear infections may be treated with oral antibiotics. If middle ear infections become recurrent, or if someone develops a complication, then a patient should be assessed by an ENT surgeon for consideration of other interventions such as grommets.
Inner ear infections are often viral in nature. Patients may become acutely dizzy or lose their hearing. The sudden loss of hearing is considered an emergency as early treatment can improve the chances of hearing recovery.