How to Prevent Ear Infections During the Winter
As we enter into the winter months, occurrences of ear infections begin to rise. Ear infections are caused by an inflammation from a bacteria or virus in the middle ear. Although ear infections are more common in children, adults can also get them.
Inflammation in the middle ear most often starts after you’ve had a sore throat, cold, flu, seasonal allergies, or other upper respiratory problem – all illnesses which tend to peak in the winter months. The infection spreads to the middle ear and causes fluid buildup behind the eardrum. When your middle ear gets clogged and air can’t get through, it creates a moist breeding ground for bacteria.
Symptoms of an ear infection include:
- Ear pain or earache
- Loss of hearing in the affected ear
- Fullness in the ear
- Tenderness to the touch
- Feeling sick
“Ear infection symptoms may look like other conditions or health problems, so it is always good to talk with your healthcare provider for a diagnosis,” says David Chen MD, PIH Health Ear Nose and Throat Specialist (ENT).
Ear infections often clear up on their own, but if you’re in a lot of pain or it’s been a few days, call your doctor. Treatment for an ear infection will depend on your symptoms, age, and general health. It will also depend on the severity of the condition. Treatment may include antibiotics and pain relievers. If prescribed antibiotics, it is important to take them as prescribed and finish all of the prescription. This can help prevent antibiotic-resistant infections or incomplete treatment with the infection returning.
If you have ear infections often, your doctor may even suggest having a hearing test, and may need to treat the infection by other methods. If ear infections are left untreated they may lead to infections in other parts of the head, permanent hearing loss, or speech and language problems. Children less than 3 years old, with three months or longer of continuous infection should be evaluated for hearing loss to prevent developmental delays.
“You can help prevent ear infections by doing your best to stay healthy and keep others healthy,” says Dr. Chen. “Frequent hand washing, keeping your nose clear, and making sure your ears are clean and dry are things you can do to prevent getting an ear infection. Also receiving recommended vaccines, such as the flu vaccine and pneumococcal vaccine greatly reduce your risk of infection.” The pneumococcal vaccine especially protects against a common bacterial cause of middle ear infections, Streptococcus pneumonia. Cigarette smoke is an irritant, and smoking can lead to your tubes becoming inflamed. So it is best to also avoid smoking and exposure to secondhand smoke, as these can increase the chances of ear infections.