When we talk about putting away childish things, one of the things we’re most glad to put away are ear infections. As the ears’ Eustachian tubes grow and fall into place during adolescence, their improved drainage ability precludes most ear infections in adulthood. Nevertheless, even as the drainage issues of otitis media subside, adults can still find themselves with painful and frustrating ear infections. The causes of ear infections of adults are more varied than the common buildup of fluid in the Eustachian tubes, and may require other intervention strategies beyond those we use for the middle-ear infections that occur in childhood.
Dedicated swimmers know that despite their best efforts, a little bit of water can get trapped in their ears, temporarily giving everything that faraway, muffled sound until enough tilting and jerking the head dislodges the water. When this water is improperly chlorinated or not disinfected at all, the accumulation of water in the ear canal can become more than an auditory distraction. This added moisture at body temperature turns the ear into a hospitality house for bacteria, an infection doctors call otitis externa, inflammation of the outer ear, though we know it better as “swimmer’s ear.” Eardrops for swimmer’s ear use acid and alcohol to kill bacteria and dry out the ear, though you can avoid most instances by staying out of natural bodies of water and taking care to keep water out of the ear when showering.
The ways in which cigarette smoking harms the human body are astonishingly manifold. Smoking is hard on the heart and lungs, but its deleterious effects on the immune system can lead to ear infections that an uncompromised immune system would otherwise handle. The ears, nose, and throat are all connected, and as smoking directly damages the tissue of the nose and throat, it indirectly damages tissue in the ears as well, leaving them susceptible to chronic infection. Smoking cessation is a massive first step in taking care of not only your ears but also your whole body.
The good intention of clean ears turns out to be a cause of ear infections in adults as well. We can admit that placing a cotton swab deep in the ear to pull out some pesky earwax can feel oddly satisfying. However, not only does this risk puncturing the eardrum, but the placement of a foreign object in the ear further increases the risk of infection. It’s best practice to keep your swabs from going deep if you do use them to clean your ears.
Even in adulthood, allergic reactions to common particles like dust, pollen, and dander can trigger allergies that block the Eustachian tubes and impede hearing. As an ENT specialist in the Houston area, Allergy & ENT Associates is well-prepared to address infections in the ear, whether they arise from allergies or other factors. Ear infections may not be the exclusive province of childhood after all, but with proper treatment, you can treat them quickly and effectively to continue going about your daily life.