By Dr. Roxanne Latimer
Some of the most common winter complaints are annoying ear pain, ear clogging and decreased hearing. The problems that start in the ear vary and one should seek medical attention as soon as possible to quickly treat the condition.
There are four basic problems that are common with the ear: inner ear infection due to prolonged congestion: pain in the ear from mucus build up; swimmer’s ear; and skin infection due to improper use of a Q-tip. While the last two are more common in the summer months, the first two are symptoms that are felt during the winter.
Summer is the time for patients to complain about swimmer’s ear or otitis externa, a painful condition usually due to underwater swimming. This pain is caused by water getting trapped in the ear canal and forming an infection. This can be extremely painful and it will hurt to put your head on a pillow or put your cell phone up to your ear. The proper treatment involves antibiotic eardrops and occasional flushing of the debris in the ear. If not treated properly, the infection may worsen. There are preventative measures that can be performed. Use earplugs while swimming or use over the counter ear dry products, especially when swimming for long periods or for several days in a row.
No matter what time of the year cerumen impaction or the plugging of the ear canal with wax is common. This occurs naturally by the curvature of the ear canal or when someone uses a Q-tip and pushes soft wax back into the ear causing it to harden and plug up. Though some over the counter medicines are available and can assist in improving the situation, often professional curetting and irrigating is necessary for the clearance of symptoms. If this has happened before then you are more prone to it happening again and prevention can be obtained by avoidance of Q tip use and regular/periodic use of over the counter earwax removal systems that prevent buildup.
The change in seasons brings about the flu, colds and other sicknesses which can cause congestion. During this season, inner ear infections or otitis media are common. Otitis media is a painful ear infection that can occur from prolonged congestion. Medical professionals usually treat this with anti-inflammatory medications for pain like ibuprofen and antibiotics.
Another painful inner ear condition, which is not infectious, is called serous otitis. This is something that occurs when mucus builds in the inner ear causing pressure on the eardrum. This pressure can be quite painful especially when chewing or yawning. Generally the pain is transient rather than constant. Because this is not an infectious condition, treatment is geared toward reducing the cause of the congestion during allergy season or from colds.
Because diagnosis and treatment for ear pain can be so varied, consulting a doctor is always recommended.
Dr. Roxanne Latimer is the lead physician at Doctors Express in the Natick office, one of eight Eastern Mass offices, offering seven-day walk-in urgent medical care. She can be reached at 508-650-6208. Visit their website, www.doctorsexpress.com. Archives of articles from previous issues can be read at www.fiftyplusadvocate.com.