While they tend to be most common in young children, ear infections can affect people of all ages. An ear infection can result from a number of causes, and treatment will depend on the severity, location, symptoms and source of the infection. Many ear infections respond to self care and clear up on their own, while others may require treatment and prescription medication from an ear, nose and throat doctor (ENT).
Treating an Ear Infection
The ear is made up of three parts - the outer ear, the middle ear and the inner ear. Infections usually develop in the middle ear and can be caused by either a virus, fungus or bacteria. An ENT will check for fluid buildup and determine whether it is a viral or bacterial infection, which helps to determine what the treatment will be. Viral middle ear infections generally clear up on their own over time, and symptoms can be managed with pain relievers like Advil. If the infection is caused by bacteria, an ENT may prescribe antibiotics to help clear up the infection and prevent the bacteria from proliferating. With severe fluid build up, the middle ear may have to be drained of the excess fluid in order to relieve pressure and allow air to flow through the ear.
Types of Ear Infections
In addition to viral and bacterial infections of the middle ear, another common type of ear infection is swimmer's ear, which affects the ear canal in the outer ear from excess water buildup which can lead to bacterial growth in the lining of the ear. Swimmer's ear (otitis externa) is usually treated with medicated drops. In rare cases, an ear infection can be caused by a fungal infection, in which case antifungal medications may be prescribed. Steroids are also sometimes used to help reduce inflammation.