What is an ear infection?
The term ear infection is medically known as acute otitis media. It is a sudden infection in the middle ear, the space behind the eardrum. Both children and adults can get an ear infection, but this is one of the most common reasons for young children to visit healthcare providers.
An ear infection is the most common childhood illness. It occurs most often in children ages 3 months to 3 years and the incidences decrease by the time they are 5 years old. Almost 25% of all children suffer from repeated ear infections. In adults’ ears, infections don’t happen nearly as often as in children
In most cases, an acute otitis media can be cleared up on its own. Still, it is essential to see your healthcare provider to receive the proper diagnosis, early treatment, and to ensure that the ear infection has resolved. Otherwise, a persistent infection may cause hearing problems and other serious medical conditions.
Risk factors for ear infections include:
- Age: Infants and young children have a greater risk for ear infections.
- Family history: Ear infections can have a familial predisposition.
- Colds: Having colds often increases the chances of an ear infection.
- Allergies: Allergies cause inflammation of the upper respiratory tract that enlarges the adenoids. Enlarged adenoids block the eustachian tube, which prevents ear fluids from draining. This ultimately leads to fluid buildup in the middle ear, which causes pressure, pain, and infection.
- Chronic illnesses: People with chronic illnesses are more susceptible to developing ear infections, especially patients suffering from immune deficiency diseases.
Causes of an ear infection
Ear infections can be caused by viruses or bacteria, particularly Streptococcus pneumonia or Haemophilus influenza. This is often the result of a blockage of your Eustachian tubes, causing fluid buildup in your middle ear. Eustachian tubes are small tubes that start from each of your ears and end directly at the back of your throat.
Causes of Eustachian tube blockage include:
- Sinus infections
- Excess mucus
- Changes in air pressure
Infected adenoids can also be a reason for an ear infection. Adenoids are glands on the roof of your mouth, right behind your nose. This helps protect your body from infections. Infections can spread from adenoid glands to your Eustachian tubes quite conveniently.
What are the symptoms of an ear infection?
Symptoms of ear infection include:
- Poor sleep
- Loss of appetite
- Drainage from the ear: Yellowish-brown fluid may drain from the ear indicating that the eardrum has ruptured.
- Trouble hearing
How is an ear infection diagnosed?
Your doctor will examine your ear thoroughly using an instrument called an otoscope. A normal eardrum is pinkish-grey in colour and looks clear. In case of infection, the eardrum appears inflamed, swollen, and red.
The fluid in the middle ear is also checked using a pneumatic otoscope, which checks it by blowing a small amount of air at the eardrum. This causes the healthy eardrum to move back and forth. If there is fluid inside the eardrum, it will not move as quickly.
Another test, tympanometry, uses air pressure to check for fluid in the middle ear.
Your doctor might order a hearing test to determine possible hearing loss if needed.
Complications of an ear infection
Ear infections usually get resolved without any intervention, but they have a tendency to recur. If left untreated, serious complications follow an ear infection:
- Hearing loss
- Mastoiditis (infection of the mastoid bone present in the skull)
- Meningitis (bacterial infection of the membranes that cover the brain and spinal cord)
- Ruptured eardrum
How to prevent ear infection with herbs, vegetables, and fruits
Healthy living is directly proportional to healthy eating. The food that you consume determines the functionality of your body. Each organ in your body requires different supplements, nutrients, and vitamins to function optimally, be healthy, and avoid infections. This is why the dieticians and physicians persistently talk about the necessity of a balanced diet. Here are some fruits, herbs, and vegetables that contain specific molecules that help prevent ear infection and keep the ears healthy and infection-free:
Garlic is recognized for its preventive and curative powers across every culture.
Research shows that garlic is an effective treatment against many forms of bacteria. Its antibacterial properties make it an ideal source to prevent and cure ear infections in humans. Its antiviral, anti-fungal and antibacterial properties make it ideal for relieving infection, inflammation, and pain. It also boosts your immune system and hence helps the body stop the infection from ever occurring.
Many studies have proven the therapeutic effects of garlic extract in cases of ear infections in children and adults alike.
The magnesium-rich fruit is as a regular diet is very effective in ear health. Studies have found that a lack of Magnesium can cause shrinkage in the blood vessels of the inner ear, which affects the oxygen supply. The Magnesium in bananas dilates the blood vessels in the inner ears, allowing sufficiently better blood circulation and oxygen reach. This helps prevent any infection in the ear and keeps it healthy. Furthermore, it helps control glutamate, the main reason for hearing loss in many senior adults.
Oranges and other citrus fruits are ideal for taking care of the free radicals that become the reason for various age-related ailments, including hearing loss and ear infections. The Vitamins such as C and E that is available in oranges work as star supplements to avoid any infections. In addition, the presence of Glutathione in oranges also protects the cells from infections and works as a natural antioxidant.
Cabbage is an ideal source of folic acid, potassium, Vitamin C and K, and Magnesium. These vitamins help regulate the free radicals that damage the sensitive tissues in the inner ears leading to infection. Hence due to its components, cabbage is a star ingredient that can aid in optimal ear health and infection prevention.
Spinach is packed to the brim with folic acid and other minerals. These minerals help with better blood circulation to the ears. Moreover, better cell growth that helps prevent the infection. The vitamins and minerals present in spinach make it an ideal source of food that can be used by the body against any chance of infection.
In a study, it was found that folic acid was extremely helpful in delaying hearing loss. A food that is ideally full of folic acid is broccoli. Along with folic acid, broccoli also contains nutrients such as Vitamin K, Vitamin C, and fibre. This plethora of nutrients is extremely helpful in reducing damage to the delicate and sensitive tissues in an ear. When incorporated into the daily diet, broccoli can prevent infection, impart health to the ear, and prevent early hearing loss.
The use of olive oil in people suffering from ear infections is an ancient remedy. Putting a few warmed drops of olive oil in the ear is safe and can have very effective results for pain relief in cases of ear infection and stops the infection from propagating any further.
Honey has been used to draw out a multitude of infections. Even before the tome of Aristotle. The antibacterial effects of honey are attributed to its hydrogen peroxide content. However, manuka honey has proven to be effective in fighting off bacteria. Antibacterial properties aside, honey may help prevent infection by providing a protective coating that fosters a moist environment that may cause infection.
Widely recognized as a natural antibiotic. Several studies have demonstrated ginger’s ability to fight numerous strains of bacteria. By reducing the bacterial load, ginger helps prevent and cure ear infections in both children and adults.
Dark Chocolate sourced from cocoa beans is rich in Zinc, which is essential in maintaining better immunity. Eating dark Chocolate protects the ears from the regular occurrence of ear infections while also enhancing the cell-growth. However, talk to your doctor before adding it to your diet as dark Chocolate in your regular diet is not advisable in some health conditions, one of which is diabetes.
Potatoes are high in potassium, responsible for regulating the amount of fluid in your blood and body tissue. Fluid in the inner ear is dependent upon potassium. Foods containing potassium can help protect against age-related hearing loss and help prevent infection as they stop fluid accumulation in the middle ear. Potatoes also contain flavonoids that help fight against free radicals and protect the ear from infection and inflammation.
Magnesium and Vitamins A, C & E play an essential role in ear health. Good thing these are in abundance in the plant artichoke. These minerals help the body deal with stress and help ease any sensitivity, reduce tinnitus, and prevent infection. This is because Magnesium combats the effects of free radicals.
Other food sources high in Magnesium include almonds, leafy greens, barley, beans, bananas, potatoes, broccoli, spinach, and pumpkin seeds.
For hundreds of years, echinacea have been used to prevent and treat infections. Numerous studies have shown, that the extract of this plant, Echinacea purpurea, can kill several different kinds of bacteria. That includes Streptococcus. Hence it can help in preventing infection by lessening that bacterial load.
Usually consumed in tea or capsules. It contains berberine, an essential component of natural antibiotics. It is very effective in treating several infections and skin conditions. An ear infection is one of the many problems this herb aids in solving.
Traditionally, used to relieve pain and inflammation. Research shows that clove water or extract is very effective against many different bacteria. The war oil prevents ear infections as it exhibits anti-inflammatory and analgesic properties. It relieves the infection, soothes the pain, and helps the patient with extreme uncomfortability experienced due to ear infection.
Oregano boosts the immune system while acting as an antioxidant. It also has anti-inflammatory properties when used in oil form. These properties help it be a start ingredient to protect against any kind of infection in the body.
It contains simple phenols and phenolic acids. These are of the simplest bioactive phytochemicals consisting of cinnamic and caffeic acids. Herbs that contain caffeic acid are highly effective against viruses, bacteria, and fungi. They not only effectively treat the infection but also manage the associated symptoms like inflammation, redness, and pain.
Onions belong in the same family as garlic and are a natural antibiotic, inflammation- and disease-fighting antioxidant. Consuming onions helps to reduce mucus and respiratory infections that indirectly prevent ear infections from happening. It also boosts the immune system hence helping that body fight off any chances of infection.
This is a member of the mustard family. The root of this plant is best acknowledged for its hot and sharp flavour. It exhibits a robust flavour, but it is packed full of antioxidants and antibiotics that work to reduce infection and relieve sinus and respiratory illness. It prevents ear and other infections and imparts general wellness in the body.
When consumed, this tropical fruit contains the enzyme bromelain, which exhibits a healing antibiotic effect. Moreover, pineapples also help fight infections. They are very effective in relieving inflammation and improving overall health.
Note: Pineapple may interact with certain antibiotics and other medications. Be sure to consult with your doctor before consuming it for any therapeutic reason.
Ear infections can be prevented and controlled with proper diet and care. It is essential to eat correctly to hear correctly! So you should personalize your diet depending on your health preferences and incorporate these supplements as mentioned earlier in the diet after consulting with an ENT dietician. Simple dietary and lifestyle improvements can keep you healthy and far away from ailments such as ear infections.