Otitis: what it is, symptoms, causes and treatment


Otitis is an inflammation or infection in the ear, which can be caused by using cotton swabs, introducing small objects, getting water, or contaminating the ear with viruses or bacteria.

Because it affects different parts of the ear, otitis is usually classified as external, media or internal, and usually causes symptoms such as ear pain, fever, presence of discharge and reduced hearing.

The diagnosis of otitis is made by an otolaryngologist through a clinical evaluation and the treatment is usually made with the use of antibiotics, analgesics or tympanocentesis, which is the introduction of a flexible tube in the ear to remove the secretion.

Main signs and symptoms

According to the location, the main signs and symptoms of otitis may include:

  • Ear pain;
  • Fever;
  • Itchy ear;
  • Decreased hearing;
  • Redness or swelling of the ear;
  • Presence of fluid in the ear;
  • Dizziness;
  • Feeling of pressure in the ear;
  • Ringing in the ear.

In addition, babies and children with ear infections may have signs such as rubbing or scratching their ears, crying a lot for no apparent reason, especially at night, being irritable, or having difficulty sleeping.

In more complicated infections, otitis can also cause mood swings, facial paralysis, labyrinthitis or other changes in the central nervous system, so it is advisable to have an appointment with an otolaryngologist as soon as the first symptoms begin.

Types of otitis

Otitis can be classified according to its causes, specific symptoms and location:

1. External otitis

Otitis externa is an infection that occurs from the outside of the ear to the beginning of the eardrum, the membrane that separates the inner and outer ear and is important for hearing. This type of ear infections is usually caused by using cotton swabs, introducing small objects into the ear, or exposure to heat and humidity, common after going to the beach or swimming pool.

This infection can appear in adults or children and usually causes symptoms such as ear pain, itching, redness or swelling of the ear, and is usually treated by the otolaryngologist with the use of steroids and antibiotics. See how the treatment of ear infections is, including homemade options.

2. Otitis media

Otitis media is an inflammation located at the back of the eardrum and is usually caused as a consequence of colds or flu, or associated with a virus such as Influenza or rhinoviruses, or bacteria such as Streptococcus pneumoniae and Haemophilus influenzae. In rarer cases, otitis media can also be caused by allergy, reflux, yeast infection, or changes in the structure of the ear.

This inflammation is very common in children and can lead to signs and symptoms such as fever, irritability, crying, especially at night, irritation, difficulty sleeping and the presence of discharge in the ear.

The treatment of otitis media varies according to the symptoms, being generally recommended the use of anti-inflammatory drugs, such as ibuprofen, analgesics or antibiotics. Understand how the treatment of otitis media is done.

3. Internal otitis

Internal otitis is an infection in the deepest region of the ear, where the labyrinth is located, a structure responsible for the balance of the body and hearing. This type of inflammation is usually caused by viruses or bacteria and can cause symptoms such as dizziness, ear pain, balance problems, tinnitus or hearing loss.

The most common symptoms of internal otitis include earache, dizziness, nausea, hearing loss and balance problems, and treatment with antibiotics and antihistamines may be indicated.

Possible causes of otitis

The main causes of otitis are:

  • Infections caused by viruses such as respiratory syncytial virus and rhinovirus;
  • Infections caused by bacteria such as Streptococcus pneumoniae, Haemophilus influenzae and Moraxella catarrhalis;
  • Introduction of small objects in the ear;
  • Use of cotton swabs;
  • Allergy;
  • ingress of water in the ear;
  • Reflux;
  • Changes in the structure of the ear.

In addition, using a bottle to feed babies and children can also cause the milk to flow back into the middle of the ear, facilitating an infection.

How to confirm the diagnosis

The diagnosis of otitis must be made by an otolaryngologist, or a pediatrician, in the case of children, through the evaluation of the clinical history, signs and symptoms, and the examination of the ear, carried out using an otoscope, a medical equipment to observe the inside the ear.

In addition, the doctor may also order some specific tests to diagnose the type of otitis, such as blood test, CT scan and MRI.

How is the treatment done

Treatment for otitis varies by location, symptoms, and cause, and is aimed at alleviating symptoms and fighting the bacteria or viruses that are causing the infection or inflammation.

Thus, the main treatments for each type of otitis are:

1. External otitis

Treatment for external otitis should be prescribed by an otolaryngologist or pediatrician, and the use of some medications to reduce pain, such as paracetamol, and topical medications, such as steroids or antibiotics, such as ciprofloxacin, may be recommended.

In addition, the doctor may also prescribe washing, in the office, the ear with lukewarm water and application of serum or alcoholic solutions, with the aid of cotton or gauze, to clean the ear.

2. Otitis media

In the treatment of otitis media, the doctor usually recommends the use of analgesics to relieve pain, antihistamines, decongestants or antibiotics, such as amoxicillin.

In more severe cases, your doctor may recommend certain procedures, such as tympanocentesis or myringotomy, a cut in the eardrum to drain fluid, or surgery to remove fluid from the ear.

In addition, some homemade measures, such as drinking a minimum of 2 liters of water a day, maintaining a balanced diet and making a warm compress on the outer area of ​​the ear can also help in the treatment and alleviate the symptoms of otitis media.

3. Internal otitis

As it is an infection that can compromise the central nervous system, the treatment of otitis media is usually carried out with a hospital stay for the administration of antibiotics directly into the vein. In addition, the otolaryngologist may also recommend a myringotomy or mastoidectomy, a surgery to clean and remove the affected tissue from the ear, alleviating the symptoms.

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