Updated: Jun 25
Middle ear infections or Otitis media are secondary infections or side effects of other infections like rhinitis(common cold) or chronic sinusitis (inactive sinus infection). Clogged or blocked ears and ear pain indicate a middle ear infection. Fever and ear discharge could be other symptoms of middle ear infection.
Why does chronic sinusitis cause ear pain or clogged ears?
In acute sinusitis or active sinusitis, the excess fluid secreted in sinuses is flushed out through the nose. In contrast to acute sinusitis, mucus travels from the sinuses to the throat in chronic sinusitis. In chronic sinusitis or low-grade sinusitis, the infection has lived in the body for such a long time that the body and sinus infection find a balance to coexist peacefully. Our body uses around 200 ml of water which contains proteins, to clean our nose and sinuses and clear dust, bacteria, viruses, and fungi that enter when we breathe external air. With a runny nose, we lose water and proteins. As a part of finding balance and preserving body fluids and proteins, in chronic sinusitis, the excess mucus passes from the nose to the back of the throat instead of flushing it out through the nose, like in acute sinusitis. So, the body figures out a way to flush out without causing the inconvenience of a runny nose. It flushes out the discharge from the back of the nose to the throat. In many chronic sinusitis patients, the only symptom they have is phlegm traveling from the back of the nose to the throat. (To understand more about sinusitis symptoms behavior, you can read our article on sinusitis symptoms.) In this process, there is a chance for the fluid to escape into the middle ear through auditory tubes. The auditory tube connects the nasopharynx to the middle ear.
The back of the mouth, i.e., the oropharynx and nasopharynx, are separated by a soft structure called the palate. When we swallow, the nasopharynx gets cut off by the palate from the oropharynx to prevent the food from entering the nose and nasopharynx. The eustachian tube then opens to supply air to the middle ear or equalize the pressure of the middle ear and the external environment. Mucus secretions in long-standing chronic sinusitis travel from the sinus to the throat via the nasopharynx. When the fluid reaches the throat, we either spit out or swallow it. This fluid or mucus contains dead bacteria, live bacteria, and dead white blood cells that can leak into the middle ear with air through the auditory tube.
When the fluid is thick, it can block the auditory tube. Else the fluid travels to the middle ear quickly. The liquid is capable of causing infection due to the bacteria or dust in it, and the thin fluid can cause edema in an auditory tube, i.e., swelling of the auditory tube lining, which can also block the eustachian tube. Both scenarios lead to ear pain due to the negative pressure created by the blockage. This infection can spread to the ear and cause a low to a high-grade ear infection that can also cause pain.
How is middle ear infection diagnosed?
An ENT doctor can confirm the middle ear infection using nasal endoscopy and impedance audiometry. Nasal endoscopy will show puss at the back of the nose or nasopharynx, and impedance audiometry will show us the pressure in the ear, which can confirm a middle ear infection. Video otoscopy can help examine the eardrum. The redness of the eardrum will indicate the infection, which is otherwise pearly white.
How to treat a middle ear infection?
Home remedies for middle ear infection
Treating sinusitis will solve the problem depending on the grade of ear infection. You can use the home remedies we suggested in our blog called "Sinusitis relief with home remedies."
Small but many workouts daily
Steam inhalation for 5 minutes only three times a day.
Use spices like turmeric along with pepper to boost immunity
Have adequate sleep
Using these remedies will help you boost your immunity which can help fight the infection and thinning of the mucus or secreted fluids. Thinning the secretions will help the secretions go back into the throat quickly and not stagnate in the nasopharynx. You can additionally use Otrivin nose drops.
Using Jalneti can also clear your nose and opening of sinuses and help you recover.
You can read our article on middle ear infections to know more.
Why should you consult an ENT doctor for a middle ear infection?
Although home remedies can heal middle ear infections, you have to consult an ENT doctor, who will make the call for you if the home treatment and nose drops are sufficient. If the infection is more, we will need additional antibiotics.
Middle ear infections can spread to the outer and inner ear if uncontrolled. It can even cause perforation of the eardrum, which can lead to major surgery. So, it is better to start home remedies and consult an ENT doctor. When diagnosed and treated early, it might require antibiotics, but we can avoid unnecessary major surgery that can take a toll on both your body and pocket.
Prevention is better than cure
Get your sinusitis treated and under control. Follow an ENT doctor's advice carefully and avoid complications that can lead to the use of additional antibiotics or surgery. Sinus surgery and sinusitis complications are entirely avoidable. Just because you don't have severe sinusitis symptoms doesn't mean your sinusitis is in check.
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