Posts tagged Ear Infection Children

Children with Chronic Ear Infections

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Ear infections are simply inflammations of the middle ear, and they are generally triggered by bacteria which accumulate behind the eardrum. People of any age can be subject to ear infections, but children have them at a more frequent rate than do adults. By the time of a child’s third birthday, five out of six children will have had an ear infection at least once, and that makes it the single most common cause for children to be taken to a doctor.

One of the problems with this is that some children are just too young to verbalize what they are experiencing, and can’t really tell you that their ear hurts. In this situation, a parent should be on the lookout for symptoms that characterize an ear infection, such as pulling at the ears, balance problems, fevers, difficulty with sleeping, excessive crying, drainage from the ears, and non-responsiveness to quiet sounds.

Causes of Ear Infections

One of the most common causes of an ear infection in a child is an upper respiratory infection, a cold, or a sore throat. In the case of the upper respiratory infection, related bacteria can easily spread to the middle ear, and with a cold, the virus can be drawn into the middle ear as an offshoot of the main infection. In any of these cases, fluid begins to build up around the eardrum.

The reason that children are more susceptible to ear infections than adults relates to the fact that the eustachian tubes in a child’s ear are smaller than an adult’s, and that makes it more difficult for any fluids to exit the middle ear, even in the absence of any kind of infection. When those eustachian tubes become swollen by a cold or other illness, drainage may slow down to almost nothing, and blockage will be the likely result. Complicating matters, the immune system for a child is not nearly as developed or robust as an adult’s, and that makes it much harder for children to fend off the effects of any kind of infection.

Children ear infections, otoscope

Your doctor will likely use an instrument called an otoscope to determine whether your child’s eardrum is red and/or swollen with an infection.

Diagnosing a Middle Ear Infection

When you take your child to see a doctor about a possible ear infection, the doctor’s first question will be about your child’s recent medical conditions. Your doctor will try and find out if your child has had a sore throat or a head cold recently. Then the doctor will ask about any of the other common symptoms associated with an ear infection, to see if your child has been experiencing any of these. After gaining this kind of information, your doctor will probably use an instrument called an otoscope, which is a lighted instrument that can see inside the eardrum to determine whether it is red and/or swollen with an infection. If this is inconclusive, your doctor might then use a diagnostic test known as tympanometry to measure eardrum sensitivity at various points.

Treatment for Middle Ear Infections

One of the most common treatments for a middle ear infection is an antibiotic called amoxicillin, which is generally prescribed over a period of 7 to 10 days. If your child is experiencing an inordinate amount of pain or discomfort, your doctor may also recommend pain relievers such as ibuprofen or acetaminophen, and possibly even eardrops which can be delivered directly into the ear.

In cases where an ear infection cannot be definitively diagnosed, your doctor may want to adopt a wait-and-see attitude about the condition, to see if it worsens into an actual ear infection. This is more common in very young children, between the ages of six months and two years. However, even when the wait-and-see approach is adopted, your doctor will probably ask to have your child returned within three days to check on whether symptoms have worsened.

If definitive diagnosis is still lacking, it is likely that a program of antibiotic treatment will be initiated, to be sure it gets no worse. When antibiotics are prescribed, it’s very important that the child takes the prescribed dosage throughout the entire period of the prescription, so that bacteria do not have the chance to develop resistance to the medication.

Preventing Middle Ear Infections

There is no rock-solid way to prevent middle ear infections in children, and the best approach that can be adapted calls for limiting the risk factors which may trigger an ear infection. Vaccinating your child against influenza is one good track to take, and limiting your child’s exposure to children known to be sick is a good idea as well, although obviously this is not 100% enforceable.

Good hygiene for everyone in the household is important: for instance washing hands and sneezing into your elbow, to help prevent the spread of germs to your child. It’s not a good idea for anyone in the household to be smoking, and statistics bear out the fact that where at least one person at home smokes, there are more ear infections than in smokeless homes. One last method of limiting the risk factor for developing ear infections is to make sure that your infant is never put down for a long period of time, such as overnight, with a bottle in hand.

An isolated ear with a swimmer's ear infection.

How to Prevent Swimmer’s Ear Infections

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Swimmer’s ear is something of a misnomer since you don’t have to be splashing around the pool or swimming to get the kind of ear infection attributed to swimmer’s ear. This ear infection is of a specific type which begins as a mild, barely noticeable itching or redness, which gradually escalates into an inflamed condition that can become very tender to the touch, and can eventually even disrupt your hearing.

You can contract swimmer’s ear infection in any number of ways, including swimming in some body of water, but also by taking a bath or shower, or even by cleaning your ears out with a cotton swab.

Causes of Swimmer’s Ear

The formal medical name for swimmer’s ear infection is otitis externa, and it occurs when water gets trapped in your ear. When that water is allowed to stay there, bacteria and sometimes fungi can grow in the ear and multiply, which then leads to an infection near the opening of the ear.

There are other causes of swimmer’s ear as well, which are not brought about by any exposure to water. If a cut or scrape occurs just inside the ear canal, that can also trigger the formation of the bacteria necessary to create an infection.

Aggressive cleaning with cotton swabs is another relatively common cause of swimmer’s ear since the swab can scratch the skin inside the ear, and bacteria can begin growing and multiplying as a result. In fact, people with excessive amounts of earwax are prone to developing swimmer’s ear, as are people bothered by eczema, which is a chronic skin condition.

Symptoms of Swimmer’s Ear

As mentioned, the first indication of swimmer’s ear is usually a mild form of itching, often accompanied by redness and swelling around the ear. When the infection begins to progress, the area becomes more inflamed and more painful. Many people who have contracted swimmers ear report that it’s extremely painful, far beyond what you might expect from such a seemingly simple medical condition.

Other symptoms can develop if swimmer’s ear is left untreated, some of which can be quite serious. Fluid build-up in the ear, swollen lymph nodes, a swollen or closed up ear, and a high fever are all symptoms that can result from an untreated ear infection. This damage is not permanent and will subside once the infection is cleared up with medication.

An ENT examines a patient's swimmer's ear infection.

The best thing to do if you have a swimmer’s ear infection is to seek the attention of your physician or ENT. They’ll be able to give you antibiotics you need to clear up the infection.

Treatment for Swimmer’s Ear

Someone who has contracted swimmer’s ear infection should take a pain reliever like Ibuprofen if the patient cannot see a doctor immediately. In some milder cases, the pain and discomfort will subside on its own, but if that doesn’t happen within just a few days, it’s always advisable to make an appointment with a physician. If you can’t get an appointment to see your doctor for treatment, you should try to get into an urgent care facility and have the infected ear examined.

To confirm a diagnosis of swimmer’s ear, a physician will take a fluid sample from the area around the ear, and the first treatment option will usually be antibiotic eardrops. If these don’t clear up the problem in a short timeframe, an oral antibiotic is likely to be the next option.

There are times however, when this line of treatment is ineffective and something else has to be tried. If ear antibiotics don’t work, it’s usually because there has been so much debris or fluid built up in the ear canal, that antibiotic eardrops cannot penetrate the obstruction. If this is the case, your doctor may attempt to clear the debris out of the ear canal by using a vacuum apparatus.

Once the buildup of debris has been dissipated, antibiotic eardrops will again probably be effective. One reason why oral antibiotics could possibly be ineffective as a means of treatment, is if the infection wasn’t really caused by bacteria in the first place, but was triggered by a fungus.

Preventing Swimmer’s Ear Infections

You don’t have to avoid swimming, bathing, or showering in order to avoid swimmer’s ear infections. One of the most effective ways of ensuring that water doesn’t become trapped in the inner ear is to wear earplugs when swimming. After showers or baths, you can lean your body toward the side which feels like it has water trapped, and shake your head somewhat vigorously. This will usually dislodge any inner ear water, and clear out the ear canals. It’s also advisable to limit your cotton swab cleaning of the ears as much as possible, so you don’t scratch the interior skin and trigger an infection.

A man receives a check-up for middle ear infections.

Treatment for Chronic Middle Ear Infections

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A middle ear infection, also known as ‘otitis media,’ is an infection or inflammation that occurs inside the eardrums.  This can cause sinus issues, among others.  Generally speaking, people with middle ear infections pick them up from colds, coughs, sore throats, and other respiratory problems. Of course, the word ‘chronic’ suggests this is an ongoing problem, which is why we want to address the treatment side of things today.

With ear infections, doctors like to wait at least two months to three months before classifying it as ‘chronic.’ ‘Acute’ ear infections usually only last for a few weeks. Typically, those with an acute infection will experience fluids accumulating behind the eardrum.

These fluids can remain behind the eardrum for a few months. If the fluid stays in place for a prolonged period or there’s some form of negative pressure, the patient will continue to see problems long into the future. Over time, the middle ear may develop a hole in the eardrum, leading to more severe issues. Doctors talk about middle ear infections in terms of months as opposed to days or weeks because chronic middle ear infections typically start without pain or any real symptoms. As time goes on, the ears may pop after sustained pressure and result in hearing loss.

Before talking about the treatments and what you can do to alleviate the issue, we should note that infants and young children are particularly prone to middle ear infections. In fact, three in every four children will experience a middle ear infection before their third birthday.  As the canal that connects the back of the nose/throat to the middle ear, the ‘Eustachian tube’ is more horizontal and much shorter when children are younger. For the microorganisms that cause infection, a shorter tube allows them to enter the middle ear faster.  In combination with a young child’s weaker immune system, and children find it hard to stave off.

A young girl gets checked for middle ear infections by a doctor.

Young children are more susceptible to middle ear infections due to a shorter Eustachian tube that allows bacteria easier access to the middle ear.

Treating Middle Ear Infections

In the majority of cases, antibiotics will be the first course of treatment. Even though there’s no real evidence to suggest their effectiveness in treating otitis media, since most middle ear infections are viral, they can remove various symptoms and make it easier for the infection to resolve itself.  Antibiotics usually fix the problem in around five days. Doctors often prescribe amoxicillin, allowing you to get back on your feet in no time.

After medication, many children and adults require grommets, which are also an option if the middle ear infection doesn’t clear up immediately. Grommets are tiny tubes placed inside the eardrum that aid with drainage. As we discovered earlier, the problem worsens when the fluid doesn’t drain away, so grommets could stop the negative spiral of events that makes otitis media worse.

Under general anesthesia, these grommets can be installed in around 15 minutes and are left inside the ear for several months. With the eardrum open, the middle ear infection can heal fully, and the grommet will eventually be pushed out. You typically won’t feel any pain, and the majority of grommets are removed between six months and a year after being installed.

If the problem is too severe for either of these solutions, surgery is recommended if there aren’t any other solutions available. With this option, the idea will be to remove the infected tissue and the areas causing the recurring pain and discomfort. Once these problem areas have been eliminated, an intact eardrum can then recreate a middle ear space as found in healthy ears.  Hearing can then be restored.

At first, you may find it strange that hearing is the last thing to be restored, but the first two steps are pivotal to stop the infection from returning. If these two steps aren’t met at the beginning, anything else done to improve hearing will be futile. If the infection comes back after the hearing is restored, hearing can be lost again so this is why the order of priority has been developed in this way.

In most cases, the problem will clear itself up with the help of antibiotics. If this doesn’t work, your doctor should discuss more great solutions so you can move forward with your life without worrying about infection and discomfort in your ears.

A close-cropped image of a doctor examining the ear of a young girl with a otoscope, checking for an ear infection.

What You Need to Know About Your Child’s Ear Infection

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A close-cropped image of a doctor examining the ear of a young girl with a otoscope, checking for an ear infection.

Does your child have an ear infection?

“My Ear Hurts” is a statement that parents often dread. Immediately, you think ear infection. However, it is important that you don’t jump to conclusions. Before you start panicking, here are a few facts about ear infections that you should know to not only help your child but know when to seek help from a doctor or otolaryngologist.

Causes

Most illnesses are caused by either bacterium of viruses. The eustachian tubes is a part of the body that drains fluids from the middle ear. When it is swollen due to infection, it doesn’t function properly. Fluid is instead pulled into the middle ear, causing bacteria to grow.

Common Symptoms of an Ear Infection

Symptoms are your number one indicator of an ear infection. So, it’s crucial that you know what to look for. If you are worried, then check to see if your child has any of the following:

  • The common cold.
  • Irritation during the day or night.
  • Hearing loss.
  • Trouble laying down straight.
  • Blood or pus in the ear.
  • Ear pain.

When to Call Your Doctor

These symptoms are serious. Blood or pus coming out of the ear probably means a ruptured ear drum. The ear drums swell and can burst, especially if your child messes with it. Now, this can heal, but a professional can tell you what to do so it heals properly.

If the pain is too great or your child cannot hear, then visit your doctor or an otolaryngologist. You shouldn’t wait for their temperature to go down. Ear infection can also be the cause of a fever and stiff neck. Home treatment only works so much, and very little if your child’s condition is severe.

Hopefully, this helps you find the signs of an ear infection. Next week, find out how to prevent an ear infection from occurring.

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