Home Diseases Ear infection: symptoms and therapy

Ear infection: symptoms and therapy

by Josephine Andrews
Published: Last Updated on 355 views

An ear infection (otitis) is an inflammation in the ear or ear canal. According to the anatomical division of the ear, the doctor differentiates between external, middle and inner ear infections. They are triggered by bacteria, viruses or fungi. Depending on the type of ear infection, the symptoms sometimes differ significantly from each other. Here you can read everything you need to know about ear infections.

ICD codes for this disease:

ICD codes are internationally valid codes for medical diagnoses. They can be found, for example, in doctor’s letters or on certificates of incapacity for work.

H65 H67 H60

quick overview

  • Treatment: Ear drops, antibiotics and, in some cases, known home remedies are used for an ear infection.
  • Symptoms: Typical symptoms of an ear infection include earache, fever and general fatigue.
  • Causes and risk factors: An ear infection is usually caused by an infection with bacteria.
  • Diagnostics: In order to diagnose an ear infection, the doctor examines the ear canal and the eardrum by means of an otoscopy.
  • Course and prognosis : An ear infection usually subsides within a few days through the administration of antibiotics. Occasionally there are complications such as mastoiditis.
  • Prevention: Decongestant nasal sprays improve ear ventilation when you have a cold and help prevent an ear infection. The Standing Committee on Vaccination (STIKO) also recommends a pneumococcal vaccination for children.

What is an ear infection?

An ear infection (otitis) is inflammation of a structure in the ear. Anatomically, they are divided into outer, middle and inner ear infections. This overview of the structure of the ear helps to better understand the different structures:

the ears

The ear is both an organ of hearing and of balance . It consists of three parts: the outer, middle and inner ear are responsible for hearing, and the inner ear exclusively for the sense of balance.

The outer ear consists of the auricle and the external auditory canal and borders the eardrum on the middle ear. The glands located in the ear canal are used to produce earwax. This kills bacteria and fungi and prevents foreign objects such as insects from entering the ear. The external auditory canal is bent forward and downward. In order to have a clear view of the eardrum during an otoscopy, the doctor has to pull the ear back and up.

The eardrum forms the boundary between the outer ear and the middle ear. It consists of a membrane that is made to vibrate by incoming sound waves. It transmits this vibration further into the middle ear, where it is connected to the auditory ossicles malleus, anvil and stirrup. They lie in the so-called tympanic cavity, an air-filled space in the skull bone.

The auditory ossicles amplify the effect of the eardrum vibrations. An air duct between the middle ear and the nasopharynx (ear trumpet, eustachian tube ) ensures that the middle ear is adequately ventilated and any fluid that may form drains away.

The inner ear is also known as the labyrinth. Inside are the bony cochlea for hearing and the semicircular canals of the vestibular system.

Classification of ear infections       

Depending on which part of the ear is inflamed, the doctor distinguishes between:

  • Ear canal inflammation (otitis externa): Inflammation of the outer ear
  • Middle ear infection (otitis media): Inflammation of the middle ear
  • Inflammation of the inner ear (otitis interna): It is usually referred to as labyrinthitis.

Ear canal inflammation (otitis externa)

You can read more about this in the article Ear canal inflammation .

Middle ear infection (otitis media)

You can read more about this in the article Middle ear infection .

What home remedies help with an ear infection?

An ear infection is treated differently depending on the type and cause. In the case of an ear infection, medication such as pain-relieving ear drops, antibiotics and glucocorticoids (“cortisone”) as well as surgical interventions are available. Decongestant nasal sprays improve ear ventilation when you have a cold.

Many people also use home remedies for an ear infection. Some use leg wraps to bring down the fever. Others warm the ear with a red light or put a bag of onions on it. So far, however, the effect of these home remedies against inflammation in the ear has not been scientifically proven.

Home remedies have their limits. If the symptoms persist over a longer period of time, do not get better or even get worse, you should always consult a doctor.

You can read more about the treatment of an infection in the outer or middle ear in the articles Ear canal infection and Middle ear infection .

What are the symptoms of an ear infection?

Since the ear is traversed by many nerve tracts and the skin over the cartilage and bones is very thin, an ear infection is always very painful. The affected ear is overheated. In some cases, hearing loss and dizziness occur. There are often additional signs of illness such as fever or exhaustion. If the ear infection occurs as part of a cold, the sinuses can also cause problems. The lymph nodes swell and other respiratory problems, such as coughing, appear.

How does an ear infection develop?

In most cases, an infection with bacteria causes an inflammation in the ear. Fungal or viral diseases are rarely the cause. When bathing or swimming , pathogens easily get into the ear canal and can cause inflammation here.

Other causes of an ear infection are small injuries. They occur, for example, when the cotton swab is pushed too deep into the ear canal when cleaning. People who frequently wear in-ear headphones and people who are generally more susceptible to infections also have an increased risk of an ear infection.

Ear infection: investigations and diagnosis

When patients with earache visit a doctor, the doctor first asks detailed questions about the medical history (anamnesis). For example, he asks:

  • When did the complaints appear?
  • Have you had similar symptoms in the past?
  • Do you have a fever?
  • Do you feel defeated?
  • Are you dizzy?
  • Do you have poor hearing in one ear?
  • Do you have another underlying condition, such as diabetes, or are you taking medication?

The doctor then examines the ear. He pays particular attention to redness, swelling and discharge. He then feels the ear to see if the touch is painful.

The doctor also performs an ear examination (otoscopy). He pulls his ear backwards by the auricle to have a clear view of the eardrum. He looks at the external auditory canal and the eardrum with a magnifying glass. Here, too, he looks for redness, swelling, discharge or foreign bodies.

Hearing tests and balance tests are occasionally carried out to clarify an ear infection.

How does an ear infection progress?

Bacterial ear infections usually clear up within a few days by taking antibiotics. In some cases, however, the inflammation spreads and complications arise. Mastoiditis is one of the most common complications of ear infections. The cells of the bony mastoid process become inflamed. Other possible serious complications are, for example, accumulations of pus inside the skull and meningitis (meningitis).

How can an ear infection be prevented?

There are ways to prevent an ear infection. When you have a cold, using nasal drops or nasal sprays causes the mucous membranes to decongest and the ear to be better ventilated. Likewise, children with a cold should not go to the swimming pool and should not get into drafts with wet hair.

Pneumococcal vaccination

The Standing Vaccination Committee of the Robert Koch Institute (STIKO) recommends vaccinating children against pneumococci. The spread of pneumococcal vaccination has reduced the incidence of middle ear infections (otitis media) in children.

Read more about pneumococcal vaccination here.

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