Ear infections in adults are now more common

Ear infections in adults are now more common

Ear infections in adults are now more common

EAR infections are not a new phenomenon, especially for children, but new cases have been on the rise since the onset of COVID-19. If you’ve ever had an earache in your life, you probably know that an ear infection occurs when a virus or bacteria infects fluid and tissue in the ear, leading to (significant) pain and swelling in the eardrum, according to The Cleveland Clinic. So it’s no surprise that SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, like other viruses, can infect ear tissue and cause ear infections, according to the National Institute of Health (NIH). The problem is that there was a rise in ear infections in children late last year, which medical experts believe is an offshoot of the “triplemia” when the flu, COVID-19 and respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) peaked simultaneously.

With the recent spike in ear infections doctors are seeing in children this year, there is concern about whether there are more ear infections in adults as well. The answer? Unfortunately, more adults should also expect ear infections this year, says Ryan Ridley, MD, an otolaryngologist at Houston Methodist Hospital.

“If more children are affected by viral illnesses (such as the flu, RSV, etc.), it increases the likelihood that more adults will also become ill. These children do not exist in a vacuum and will carry these illnesses from school to their homes to parents and other adult family members,” he says. “It’s important to keep in mind that the ear infection itself is not transmissible, but the viral disease that causes the inflammation that leads to the ear infections is contagious.”

Are ear infections common in adults?

In general, ear infections are much less common in adults than in children. In fact, the NIH notes that ear infections are the most common reason for children’s hospital appointments.

“The main reason for this has to do with anatomy. The Eustachian tube connects the back of the nose to the ear. This tube is directly affected by diseases such as respiratory viruses – RSV, flu and even COVID-19 – which cause inflammation and mucus. accumulates in the tube, leading to an ear infection,” explains Dr. ridley out.

An adult’s Eustachian tube is angled vertically, making it difficult for mucus and drainage to reach the ear as it runs from the ear to the back of the nose. In children, the Eustachian tube is shorter, narrower, and oriented more horizontally, making it difficult for the ear to drain. The result: a hotbed for moisture and infection to build up, says Dr. Ridley.

Signs you may want to see your doctor for an ear infection

“One of the most important things I always tell patients is that if you have an earache in one or both ears that is also accompanied by a feeling of fullness and hearing loss, you may have an ear infection, which needs to be checked. Other symptoms may include a fever , chills, nausea, jaw pain, ringing in the ears, itching or irritation in and around the ear,” says Dr. Ridley.

Ear infections can go away on their own, so you may want to wait a day before seeing a doctor if your symptoms are mild, according to The Mayo Clinic. However, you should contact the doctor immediately if you have severe symptoms, including chronic pain, hearing problems, or fluid from your ear.

“In addition, if symptoms are left untreated, other symptoms, such as pain and swelling of the bone behind the ear (mastoiditis) or even dizziness, may worsen in some cases,” adds Dr. Ridley admits.

What should you do if you have an ear infection?

If you suspect you have an ear infection, you should be seen by a medical professional. “This could be a physician, physician assistant or nurse practitioner to determine if antibiotic treatments may be necessary,” says Dr. Ridley. The medical professional will take your medical history and perform a physical exam of the ear. If your symptoms are severe or do not improve after treatment, the medical professional may refer you to an otolaryngologist, also called an ear, nose, and throat doctor.

Treatment for an ear infection depends on the type and severity of the infection. “If you are diagnosed with an ear infection, antibiotics may be prescribed if needed. However, in the event that antibiotics are not needed, a conservative management plan known as ‘watch and wait’ may also be used,” Dr. Ridley says.

He notes that if an ear infection doesn’t go away with antibiotics and conservative management, a procedure called myringotomy may be performed as a last resort to make a small opening in the eardrum to allow fluid trapped in the ear to drain. The procedure is usually performed under anesthesia and takes about 15 minutes. It is safe, with a significantly high success rate and few side effects.

Is it possible for adults to prevent ear infections?

If you’re concerned about the health of your ears amid increasing ear infections, the following guidelines can help you stay healthy:

  • Wash your hands often and thoroughly with soap and water
  • Cough or sneeze into a tissue or your upper arm
  • Avoid smoking and passive smoking
  • Get recommended vaccines
  • Dry your ears after swimming

“If you have an ear infection, you don’t have to worry about the condition itself being contagious,” says Dr. Ridley. But if you also have symptoms of an upper respiratory illness, such as a cough, nasal congestion, and runny nose, you can spread the virus to others, and that “can set the stage for an ear infection,” says Dr. Ridley.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *