What is otitis? What causes otitis? What are the symptoms of otitis?

Otitis is an umbrella term that refers to inflammation or infection of the ear, in humans as well as in other animals. Bacteria or viruses that cause ear infection enter our body through nose or mouth. Based on the part of the ear affected there are three major types of otitis.

Otitis externa/ external otitis/ swimmer's ear: Otitis that affects the outer ear and ear canal is called otitis externa. The symptoms include pain and discomfort. 

Otitis media/ middle ear infection: Fever, ear pain and a feeling of fullness in the ear are the main symptoms of otitis media. It causes fussiness and feeding problems in young children.

Otitis interna/ labyrinthitis/ inner ear infection: This type of otitis affects the inner ear. Since inner ear contains sensory organs that regulate both body balance and hearing, when inner ear is affected, it affects equilibrium as well as hearing.

Based on the severity there are two types of otitis, acute otitis which is often very painful, starts suddenly. Usually this won’t last for long. The second type of otitis called chronic otitis keeps coming back and might result in long term ear damage

How is otitis diagnosed?

Otitis is diagnosed after detailed ear examination and a few tests. Otoscopy is the term for ear examination. In this a lighted instrument called otoscope is used to check for infections in the auditory canal, movement of the eardrum, the presence of fluid in the middle ear and hearing loss. Tests such as tympanometry and acoustic reflectometry are also employed for the same purpose.

How is otitis treated?

Mild ear infection associated with cold and flu would go away on its own within a couple of days. Severe infections need proper medical care.

  • Antibiotics are prescribed for otitis due to bacterial infections.
  • Antibiotic treatment won’t work for otitis caused by viral infection.
  • Surgical treatments are employed for treating chronic otitis.

Is there any way to prevent otitis?

  • Avoid inserting cotton swabs into your ear.
  • Avoid swimming in contaminated water.
  • Make sure that you dry your ears after prolonged swimming.