Infection in which part of the ear?

Hearing Health & Technology Matters
December 16, 2013

There are times when I am out walking with my architect husband and he points out what bothers him on a building about the design. I say, “Don’t show me, I wouldn’t even notice that unless you pointed it out, thanks!”  Therein lies the rub, when a person says to me, “I have an inner ear infection!” Sometimes I just say, “Oh, I am sorry, I hope you get well soon!”  But most of the time I can’t stop there. I break down, ask questions and try to figure out what type of ear infection.  I try not to pry in the nicest possible way, but I am sure the people are saying, does it really matter?  Just as the building lines need to line up for my husband, I need the correct anatomy targeted.  I am type A; yes, thank you for asking.

An external ear infection is in the canal (up to the eardrum) or on the outer part of the ear, the pinna, also called otitis externaTreatments are usually topical and are used to cleanse and administer antibiotics.  The middle ear infection, otitis media,  is on the inside of the eardrum, in the middle ear space where your three little bones are.

If the level of pain is not too high, usually a sit-and-wait approach is recommended.  But if fluid sits in the middle ear for a long period of time, an acute infection may occur. An acute infection occurs when the build-up of bacteria grows so rapidly that there is pressure on the eardrum from the inside.  This is very painful, and most of the time only a pain reliever can take the edge off.  Seeing a physician can help as the MD can prescribe numbing drops.  If the fluid builds up too fast, the only relief comes when the eardrum breaks to release the fluid.  A physician should be seen if this happens to make sure the eardrum heals properly.  Normally it will if this happens only once or twice. But this is a chronic occurrence, the eardrum may fail to heal, leaving a permanent hole in it.  Repairing this requires a tympanoplasty, which I will describe in my first post of the New Year.

An inner ear infection develops on the other side of the round and oval windows (blue in the diagram).  This is in the labyrinth that I spoke of in my previous blog.  Outer and middle ear infections are usually bacterial. They are painful, hot to the touch, red, and can be miserable!  An inner ear infection can also be miserable, but for a different reason.  Inner ear infections are usually viral, which means antibiotics do not usually help.  They can affect your hearing and your balance, either  temporarily or permanently.  If there is a sudden drop in your hearing, go to a physician right away.  There are some steroids that can help restore the hearing, but they must be administered in the first 48 hours after the hearing change.  There is no guarantee that a medication given after a sudden hearing loss will restore hearing, but it is imperative you seek medical treatment right away.

This is why if a person says “I have an ear infection,” I have to ask more questions to find out in what part of the ear.  I try very hard not to be intrusive, but I am always curious!  I just don’t want to know if the lines in the buildings are not exact.  Have a wonderful holiday, everyone!

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