Ear Infections in Children
Many children will experience an ear infection, with the most common ages affected between 6 months and 2 years of age. Ear Infections are very common at an early age and can continue to be a recurring condition until around the age of eight. An ear infection occurs when the fluid is trapped in the middle ear and is especially common during the cold and flu season.
What Causes Ear Infections?
An ear infection is a bacterial infection that affects the middle ear (space behind the eardrum). Most often, the infection is the result of a cold. In small children, a cold can block the passage that connects the middle ear to the back of the throat, trapping fluid that becomes infected and puts painful pressure on the eardrum.
If you suspect your child has an infection, it is important to visit your child's physician right away. After examining both ears, if an infection is present the doctor will prescribe an antibiotic to kill the bacteria that caused the ear infection.
Symptoms of an Ear Infection
It is very unlikely for an ear infection to cause permanent damage. Children may experience a variety of temporary symptoms, including the following:
- Ear pain caused by inflammations and build-up of fluids in the middle ear
- Trouble hearing, pulling at an ear
- Yellow of foul smelling fluid from the ear
- Headache or
- Difficulty sleeping, irritability and crying
- Loss of balance
- Loss of appetite
If significant symptoms of reflux such as excessive spitting up or stomach pain occur, consult a physician immediately. Reflux is a risk factor for recurrent ear infections.
How to Prevent Ear Infections
Reduce Exposure to Colds
Most ear infections begin with a
common cold. Decrease your child's exposure to colds by avoiding others who have a cold, requesting family members and visitors wash their hands before touching your baby and delaying the use of large day care centers until after your child's first birthday.
Keep Your Child Away From Secondhand Smoke & Pollution
Because secondhand smoke increases the frequency and severity of infections, insist that no one smoke around your child. Decrease your child's exposure to high levels of pollution.
Breastfeed Your Baby
The antibodies found in breast milk have a significant impact on the rate of ear infections. Studies show that children who are breastfed for at least the first six to 12 months of life experience fewer ear infections than those who are bottle-fed. If you do use a bottle, bottle-feed your child at a 45 degree angle.
Treatments for Ear Infections
After consulting with your physician, he or she may recommend prescribed antibiotics. It is important to finish the entire antibiotic prescription. Even though your child may feel better a few days after treatment begins, the infection can recur if the medication is not finished. A follow-up exam two to three weeks after the initial diagnosis is also advised. At that time, your child's physician will examine the ears to ensure the infection has cleared and that no additional treatment is needed.
If your child develops a stiff neck, acts very sick or experiences fever or pain after taking the antibiotic for 48 hours, contact your child's physician right away.
Acetaminophen or Ibuprofen for Pain Relief
Both over-the-counter medications can help ease the pain of an earache or reduce a fever over 102 F. Because the ear tends to hurt more in the evening, be sure to give your child a dose before bedtime.
Apply Cold or Heat
To reduce swelling and pressure, apply ice wrapped in a wet washcloth or a heating pad to the ear. Do so for no longer than 20 minutes to avoid frostbite or burn.
Ear tubes may be an alternative to medications when dealing with reoccurring or chronic ear infections. Ear tubes help alleviate and drain pressure with a tiny tube that drains the fluid in the middle ear. The procedure lasts about 10 minutes and is the most common childhood surgery performed with anesthesia. Consult your physician to see if ear tubes are a good fit for your child.
Heather Gomes, M.D.
Ear infections are most common during the cold and flu season. Some inflammation or obstruction of the nose blocks the station tube in the back and fluid builds up in the ear and sometimes that fluid in the ear drum can get infected.
How common are ear infections?
Fairly common in children under 2 years of age but can continue throughout childhood and some have problems that persist in adulthood.
What are the symptoms of ear infections?
Often kids will develop a fever, ear pain where they are pulling or yanking on the ear, irritable, fussy, not eating or drinking well, not sleeping well, sometimes they will get drainage out of the ear that is yellow or foul smelling. In adults, it's ear pain, usually the ear feels full, they don't hear well, they can have a fever.
How are ear infections treated?
Often ear infections will clear with antibiotics. If there is concern for hearing loss, persistent fluid, then for a sheer number of infections, placing ear tubes or pressure equalizing tubes is another option. They decrease the number of infections and the pain and symptoms that go along with each ear infection.
When should you consult an ENT physician about ear infections?
Very frequent or recurrent ear infections, such as getting 4-6 ear infections a year. Any concern for hearing loss or speech delay should prompt at least a basic hearing evaluation. The sooner you catch it, the better it is for the child and the quicker you can restore their hearing back to normal if possible.