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Otitis: a common ear infection

Otitis is often referred to as the inflammation of the ear. Different forms of otitis exist, depending on where it occurs in or around the ear.

What is otitis?

Otitis is an infection that commonly takes place in the middle ear and is therefore known as otitis media. However, it can also form in the external ear canal (otitis externa) or deep inside the ear (labyrinthitis).

The inflammation causes redness or swelling to the affected part of the ear, which can result in earaches and a high temperature. The symptoms of otitis tend to lessen after a few days and should clear up relatively quickly. If the condition has not passed after a few days, it is important to seek medical advice.

What are the symptoms of otitis?

The symptoms of a middle ear infection develop quickly, but are known to clear up within a few days. This condition is also referred to as acute otitis media. Symptoms of otitis media include:

  • Ear ache
  • A fever (high temperature)
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Fatigue

A slight loss of hearing can also occur. The reason for this is a fluid build up in the middle part of the ear, which can be referred to as ‘glue ear’.

If symptoms do not seem to improve within three to five days, otitis could lead to further problems, although it is rare. These complications can include labyrinthitis, mastoiditis and meningitis, so it is important to see a doctor immediately if you feel the ear infection is not passing.

How can otitis be treated?

Most ear infections get better within a few days without treatment, but if necessary, you can take paracetamol or ibuprofen to relieve some of the symptoms of otitis media. Drinking plenty of fluids and eating regularly is also important. Applying a warm washcloth to the affected ear can help to alleviate the pain. Over-the-counter ear drops are also suitable.

Antibiotics are prescribed to treat patients with severe middle ear infections that appear not to settle after 3 to 5 days. Antibiotics do not speed up the recovery process, it is used to prevent further complications.

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