A variety of ear, nose, and throat (ENT) infections can occur, each with differing symptomatology. This type of infection is quite common among both adults and children. Often specific infections occur more frequently at certain ages. For example, children are more likely to have inner ear infections than adults. Common viruses occur throughout the year, which produces many of the typical ENT symptoms.
What follows will be a discussion of the most common types of ear, nose, and throat infections and their characteristics. We’ll also discuss the details regarding causal factors, treatment options, and long-term outlooks.
Ear, Nose, and Throat Infections Characteristics
Ear, nose, and throat infections are bacterial and viral infections that involve the upper nasal passageways, the pharynx, and the ear (including the inner ear and the ear canal). The ENT specialty is a medical specialty that focuses on head and neck disorders, particularly of the ear, nose, and throat.
The specialty of Otolaryngology (ENT) was created because of a 19th-century discovery that the ear, nose, and throat are interconnected via a passage system of tubes. Over time, ENT medicine has become much more specialized, and treatment for the many conditions has improved dramatically.
Most Common Types of Ear Infections
The ear is comprised of an inner, middle, and outer ear, each vulnerable to infection in its own way. While children are certainly most vulnerable to ear infections, adults alike can develop these types of infections.
The following are the two most common ear infections:
- Otitis Media (Middle Ear Infection)
- Otitis Externa (Outer Ear Infection)
As one of the most common infections experienced in children, otitis media is a middle ear infection that is often a viral infection but many times can instead be a bacterial infection. The most common type of bacterial infection associated with the development of otitis media is streptococcus.
In many cases, treatment will be with antibiotics such as Amoxicillin. However, in more severe cases of chronic ear infections in children, the placement of an ear tube in the tympanic membrane is necessary to treat this condition.
Otitis externa is an ear infection affecting the outer ear and typically results in an inflammatory response of the outer skin and ear canal. This condition is often referred to as “swimmer’s ear.” Symptoms of this type of ear infection are significant pain inside the ear canal, itch, and marked drainage of fluid from the ear.
Early treatment of this condition with cortisporin antibiotic drops will be necessary to improve this painful condition.
Most Common Types of Nasal Related Infections
Sinus infections, which are infections most closely related to the nasal cavity, are quite common infections in the United States, affecting upwards of 30 million individuals annually. The paranasal sinus cavities are enclosed areas on each side of the face beside the nose. Those who are at the greatest risk of sinus infections are those with immunity problems, allergies, asthma, or structural blockages.
The sinuses are areas that are very susceptible to infection and inflammation. The following are three types of sinusitis:
- Acute Sinusitis
- Subacute Sinusitis
- Chronic Sinusitis
Acute sinusitis is an infection of the paranasal sinuses and nasal mucosa that lasts about one to four weeks. The infection is usually viral in nature and is commonly described as a head cold.
Subacute sinusitis is a sinus infection that can last upwards of 3 months, typically diagnosed alongside other allergy-related illness.
The most prolonged of the three types of sinusitis, chronic sinusitis can last over three months. Individuals with structural nasal problems are at the greatest risk of developing chronic sinusitis.
Symptoms of any type of sinusitis include fatigue, stuffy nose and congestion, nasal drainage, impaired smell, and headache caused by sinus pain. Treatment often involves rest, hydration, and antibiotic treatment, though surgical treatment may be required to repair a chronic nasal structural abnormality in severe cases.
Most Common Types of Throat Infections
The most common type of infection of the throat is caused by a bacteria called Group A Streptococcus, or Group A Strep. The condition is often referred to as “Strep Throat.” Streptococcus is one of the most common bacteria found in the locations of the ear, nose, and throat.
The easiest, most effective, and most prescribed treatment for streptococcus bacterial infections is penicillin. In some cases, alternative antibiotics will be necessary due to allergies to penicillin or bacterial resistance.
One of the complications of streptococcal throat infection is rheumatic fever and rheumatic heart disease, which are some of the leading causes of cardiovascular death worldwide.
Ear, nose, and throat infections are very prevalent at all ages, and the ENT specialty is very important to the specialized treatment of this common illness.
While the majority of ENT scenarios can be managed with supportive care or antibiotic therapy, in rare cases, further intervention such as surgical treatment may be required.