One of the causes of hearing loss can be infections. Untreated infections, even mild, may damage the delicate parts of the ear and compromise hearing. While in the beginning, hearing impairment may be reversed, lack of proper attention and treatment can lead to permanent hearing loss. Children often suffer from ear infections. Difficulties with hearing will also have an impact on speech and language development so it is crucial to attend to such conditions and take precautions to prevent them.
Ear infections usually affect the middle and inner ear and interfere with the proper conduction of sound mainly because of swelling or accumulation of fluids. Inability to hear can lead to many difficulties and problems with understanding speech or being able to locate the direction of the sound.
What is Otitis Media?
One of the most common ear infections is Otitis Media, which is an inflammation of the middle ear. It usually appears when the person suffers from a cold, upper respiratory infection or allergy. The condition is characterised by a collection of mucus and pus behind the eardrum. This causes pain and swelling and often leads to a diminished hearing ability or a blocked up feeling. It is also possible for fluid to accumulate in the middle ear and with time to turn into a chronic condition. Such an infection could have serious negative consequences and even cause permanent hearing impairment.
How can I Prevent Ear Infections?
It is very important for children and adults to undergo regular hearing checks. Parents should take responsibility for their children's ear conditions and ensure that ear infections are treated in a timely fashion and no further damage is inflicted on the ear. There are ways to reduce the risks of an ear infection for children including:
- breastfeeding of infants (at least 6 months)
- avoiding leaving the child in large childcare groups as bacteria and germs are likely to spread faster among children as they have more vulnerable immune system than adults
- weaning your baby from using a pacifier before his/her first year, prolonged use of a pacifier after the twelfth month can translate into frequent ear infections later on
- avoiding smoking around your child as fumes lead to ear infections
- providing immunisation as suggested by your paediatrician and considering vaccines that prevent other illnesses which may lead to hearing loss or ear infections, e.g. pneumococcal conjugate vaccine (yearly flu vaccines are also recommended for adults)
In addition, prevention for both children and adults may be achieved with better ear hygiene and frequent washing of the hands to kill bacteria.
Once an ear infection occurs, it is best to turn to your GP as soon as you can and describe your symptoms so you can be prescribed a proper treatment and avoid worsening of the condition. Sometimes the infection may become serious and you may need to use antibiotics. However, be aware that in such cases it is possible for you to develop a resistance thus making future ear infections much more difficult to cure. It is good to discuss with your healthcare specialists the side effects of your medication, as some drugs can contain ototoxic substances (damaging the auditory system).