Most of us will have an ear infection at some point in our lives. We generally see them as a nuisance. They’re painful – in fact, they can be extremely painful indeed – but thankfully short lived. Milder cases will clear up on their own; others may require intervention via antibiotics. However, it’s usually a week long problem that we tend to forget about as soon as it’s resolved.
However, ear infections – and especially repeat ear infections – should be treated with a little more caution than this. First, let’s define what an ear infection actually is.
There are two types of ear infections:
Otitis Externa – An infection of the outer ear and the surrounding ‘shell’. This is often referred to as “swimmer’s ear” and is generally on the milder end of the spectrum.
Otitis Media – In this case, the infection is deeper in the ear and can potentially perforate the eardrum. Otitis media is often more painful, and tends to be characterized by this pain and a significant level of discharge from the ear.
While otitis externa is an unpleasant experience, when it comes to complications, this is – for want of a better phrase, the ‘better’ infection. Otitis media, on the other hand, can have long-ranging complications that could lead to permanent hearing loss.
Wait – What? An Ear Infection Could Cause You To Lose Your Hearing?
Yes. It really is that simple. It’s something of a surprise, because mostly, the general attitude to ear infections doesn’t quite treat them with the severity they deserve. The link between otitis media and permanent hearing loss is well established, with permanent damage to the inner ear a real and present threat.
Why Does This Happen?
The main reason that people may lose their hearing as a result of an infection is when the infection goes untreated. There are various reasons many of us prefer to avoid antibiotics; be it concerns over antibiotic resistance or just not wanting to endure the side effects of antibiotics.
What If I’ve Ignored Infections In The Past?
If you are concerned about previously ignoring infections, then the best thing to do would be to consult a medical professional. An ‘ear, nose, and throat’ doctor will be able to examine the internal structure of your ears. If you worry you already have hearing loss, then see an audiologist to determine the cause of the problem. This might sound like a daunting thing to do, but reassure yourself with advice on what to expect from the appointment and acknowledge it’s best to be aware of the issue if there is one.
There is no age barrier for ear infections causing long-lived consequences, so don’t assume you have youth on your side. If you have ever left a past infection untreated, then checks with these medical professionals could be considered essential.
So… Always Take Antibiotics For An Ear Infection?
Not necessarily. For milder infections, your immune system might be able to cope with them on its own – so give it a few days. If you get to the third day and there is no sign of improvement, then antibiotics might be the best course of action. If you worry about side effects, then you can try taking a probiotic two hours after the antibiotic as these can help ease those side effects.