Ear infections are most common in children, but can occur in anyone. Usually, ear infections can be treated by a GP, using antibiotics. In more severe or prolonged cases, you may be referred to an ENT consultant for further treatment.
Middle ear infections (otitis media) can produce symptoms such as earache, deafness, high temperature and possibly blood and pus coming from the ear if the eardrum has burst. If a middle ear infection is coming back repeatedly or an eardrum is taking a long time to heal, it may be necessary to operate.
Outer ear infections (otitis externa) generate symptoms such as itching, pain, dulled hearing and discharge coming from the ear.
Where antibiotics or eardrops have not been successful, middle ear infections may be treated through surgery. A small cut may be made in the eardrum in order for fluid to drain out. In children, grommets may be inserted into the ear in order to let air flow through the ear to stop repeated infections.
For the treatment of outer ear infections, if antibiotics or eardrops have not been successful, you may require wax to be syringed from your ear so that ear drops will be more effective, or an ear wick, which is where a soft gauze covered in medication is inserted into your ear, in order to gain direct contact with the infected area. This will usually be carried out by a specialist in hospital, who will need to change the gauze every few days.
Often, ear infections will disappear on their own without treatment. If you are prescribed antibiotics, the infection should clear up within a few days. For more severe cases, and where surgery is required, recovery will take longer.
If the ear infection is prolonged, it is important to consult your doctor, as a long term infection can cause deafness.
If you require surgery, there is a small element of risk, as there is with all surgery. Your surgeon will discuss this with you in more detail.