It is cold and flu season, and the flu is going around like wildfire. Over the past week, patients have told me they feel 90% of the people they know have had the flu. Fact is, the Maryland Department of Health reports influenza-like illnesses are widespread and high in intensity. A common complication that occurs in association with influenza is a middle ear infection. Otitis media, the specific term for middle ear infection, occurs when the Eustacian tube becomes obstructed or “blocked”, and can no longer perform it’s function of draining the middle ear. Respiratory illnesses, like influenza, infect the upper airway and cause swelling and blockage where the tube drains into the back of the throat, causing Eustacian Tube Dysfunction (ETD). Other causes of ETD include environmental tobacco smoke (ETS) and allergies. Children are even more prone to ear infections, as their tubes block more easily, inserting into their middle ears at sharper angles. Blocked Eustachian tubes lead to fluid collecting within the middle ear; this fluid can become infected by bacteria, leading to inflammation, fever, swelling, pressure, decreased hearing and pain.
There are three major parts to the ear; the inner ear, the middle ear and the outer ear. All three parts can get their own type of ear infection. The middle ear is the area that most commonly gets infected due to allergies or viruses. Swimmer’s ear, or an outer ear infection, is caused by a buildup of moisture in the ear canal. Swimming, bathing or diving force water up into the ear canal; if the moisture is not fdried properly, or water hangs up behind earwax, an external ear infection can develop. Pain upon pulling on the outside of the ear is a sure sign of Swimmer’s ear. Lastly, inner ear infections occur when viruses climb up the Eustacian tube and infect the inner ear, triggering dizziness or vertigo. The dizziness from inner ear infections are difficult to treat, often lasting weeks, leading to significant school and work absence.
If you think that you may have an ear infection, it is important that you see a doctor and have a thorough examination. If middle ear infections keep coming back, consider allergy as a cause. Come see Dr. Gels for a thorough examination and testing for respiratory allergies. If allergies are present, there is the possibility that allergy injections may help. For more information, or to set up an appointment, visit annapolisallergy.com.