Ear infections happen when germs such as bacteria, viruses or fungi cause swelling and irritation of your ear. They are most common in childhood, and are often passed from one child to another, but they can happen at any age.
Infections of the middle ear are called otitis media, and infections of the outer ear are called otitis externa.
Most ear infections are uncomfortable but not serious. Most will clear up by themselves in a few days. They are unlikely to cause permanent loss or impairment of hearing but you should consult a doctor if you are get infections often.
Ear infections and hearing aids
Infections can be problematic for aid wearers. Swelling in the ear can stop your hearing aid from fitting properly, it can also reduce what you can hear and temporarily change the acoustics of your ear. I’ve had quite a few infections over the years and my hearing is usually reduced for the few days that the infection lasts.
I got my first ear infection during my honeymoon in the Dominican Republic (it was a nice wedding present that stayed with me for a long time). The initial infection was quite severe and I had to visit the local medical center for antibiotics, which luckily cleared it up real quick. It was a brief swim in the sea that gave me the infection.
After that I started to get recurring infections every three months or so – this lasted for a couple of years and it wasn’t until I bought myself a new pair of aids that the infections finally stopped. That may have been coincidence but it seemed as though the bacteria causing the infection lived on my aid’s shell and re-infected my ear every so often and wearing new aids finally stopped it.
Getting rid of a minor infection if you wear hearing aids
If you wear hearing aids and you get an ear infection:
- Try and let your ears gets as much air as possible. Try and take your aids out a bit more often and let your ears breath. Particularly true if you wear a moulded in-the-ear model of hearing aid that is stopping air getting into your ear and making it sweaty – that’s a great environment for bacteria to thrive.
- Don’t get your ears wet. That’s advice from the doctor in the Dominican Republic that has stayed with me ever since. Resist the urge to wash your infected ears out. Keep them as dry as possible while infected.
- Wipe your hearing aids after taking them out.
- If the infection lasts more than 4-5 days then go see your doctor or get some ear-drops or antibiotics. The cause of the infection will determine the treatment – you can’t treat a viral infection with antibiotics, for example.