Many of us will experience ear problems at some time in our lives and these can affect the outer, middle or inner ear.
Common conditions of the ear include infection, inflammation and wax build up and while some of these can be painful at worst or uncomfortable at best, your community pharmacist can help as the staff there are used to seeing people with ear problems and helping them to select the best treatment or referring them to a doctor when necessary.
Some ear problems which occur quite often include:
- Otitis media – inflammation of the middle ear which usually starts from a common cold but can be painful and at times result in a fever.
- Glue ear – a chronic otitis media that mainly affects children and is characterised by a build-up of thick or sticky fluid in the middle ear, behind the eardrum. This causes hearing impairment, and while the problem can clear up without medicines it is important that the ear is checked by a health professional to see if treatment is needed.
- Ear wax – excess build-up of wax which can dry out, creating a hard plug which blocks the ear. Your pharmacist may recommend wax-softening ear drops or it may need to be removed through syringing by a doctor or nurse.
- Swimmer’s ear – is an inflammation of the ear canal (outer ear) which develops when water gets into the ear and causes infection or inflammation. This makes the area more prone to infection.
- Infectious myringitis – is inflammation of the eardrum which can be painful and while pain medicines may help, antibiotics or other treatment may be needed.
- Acute mastoiditis – is an infection of the bone behind the ear and can cause fever, intense pain and discharge from the ear. Immediate medical attention is required for this condition.
- Tinnitus – the person experiences noises or ringing in their ears when no actual noise is present.
- Vestibular neuronitis – the vestibular nerve becomes irritated and inflamed causing dizziness and vertigo along with vomiting and nausea.
- Herpes zoster of the ear – when the herpes zoster virus (shingles) infects the cochlear nerve of the ear, causing pain, vertigo and small blisters on the outer ear and ear canal and sometimes on the face and neck.
- Barotrauma – Ear barotrauma is a condition that causes ear discomfort due to pressure changes. In each ear there is a tube that connects the middle of your ear to your throat and nose. It also helps regulate ear pressure. This tube is called the eustachian tube and is named after the 16th century anatomist who discovered it. When the tube is blocked for some reason, you may experience ear barotrauma.
There are some things we can do to help protect our ears and these include never inserting foreign objects, including cotton buds, into the ear.
Other tips include not diving in deep water when you have a cold, wearing hearing protection when in a loud environment and always seeking advice from your pharmacist at the first signs of any pain, discomfort or discharge form your ear.