Among the most common injuries a young child can face, ear infections are smack in the middle. They cause extreme discomfort for anyone who has had the misfortune of enduring them and even an adult will tell you how truly irritating they are. Sadly, kids get them regularly for several reasons, but as a person gets older, ear infections tend to happen less frequently. Besides knowing the signs and symptoms of this nasty infection, it’s important to know exactly how they start and why they occur, so you can greatly reduce the odds of your child ever having one!
What is an ear infection?
Chances are you will hear the commonly used term “ear infection”. In the medical world, it is referred to as acute otitis media or a sudden infection in the middle ear (the space behind the eardrum). The truth is anyone can get an ear infection, however, they are one of the most common reasons young children visit healthcare providers.
In many cases, ear infections clear up on their own. Your healthcare provider may recommend a medication to relieve pain and if it has worsened or not improved, your healthcare provider may prescribe an antibiotic. In children younger than the age of two years, an antibiotic is usually needed for ear infections.
It’s important to see your healthcare provider to make sure the ear infection has healed or if your child has ongoing pain or discomfort. Hearing problems and other serious effects can occur with ongoing ear infections, frequent infections, and when fluid builds up behind the eardrum.
What causes an ear infection?
Essentially, ear infections are caused by bacteria and viruses. Many times, they begin after a cold or other respiratory infection. The bacteria or virus will travel into the middle ear through the eustachian tube, and the bacteria will plant its nasty self and take control. This tube connects the middle ear to the back of the throat. The bacteria or virus can also cause the eustachian tube to swell, thus making the tube so swollen that it will become blocked. This will cause the normally produced fluids to build up in the middle ear instead of being able to be drained away.
Another issue is that the eustachian tube is shorter and has less of a slope in children than in adults. This physical difference makes these tubes easier to become clogged and more difficult to drain. The trapped fluid can become infected by a virus or bacteria, causing pain, which is why children are more susceptible to ear infections.
Where is the Middle Ear?
We have been using the term “middle ear” quite a bit and if you’re wondering why it is because it’s rather important to know. The middle ear is behind the eardrum and is also home to the delicate bones that aid in hearing. These bones are the hammer, anvil, and stirrup. This is also where the infection will take hold and live during its duration of time. In addition to the middle, there are also the outer and inner parts of the ear. The outer ear is the outside external ear flap and the ear canal, and the inner ear contains the snail-shaped labyrinth that converts sound vibrations received from the middle ear to electrical signals. The auditory nerve carries these signals to the brain.
Even though the infection will reside in the middle part of the ear, understanding the body part in its entirety can help your child when they tell you where they feel the pain and exactly what they’re going through. Some children will become so vexed by the irritation that they will struggle with articulating exactly how they feel so it’s best to be aware as much as you can.
What Are the Symptoms of An Ear Infection?
There are plenty of symptoms to look out for and your child will tell you all about them. The most obvious is ear pain. This symptom is obvious in older children and adults, but in infants and children too young to speak, look for signs of pain like rubbing or tugging ears, crying more than usual, trouble sleeping, and acting fussy/irritable. Other signs to watch out for would be loss of appetite, irritability, poor sleep, fever, drainage from the ear, and trouble hearing.
Who is Most Likely to Get an Ear Infection?
Ear infections are the most common childhood illness other than a cold. They occur most often in children who are between ages 3 months and 3 years and are common until age 8. Some 25% of all children will have repeated ear infections. Adults can get ear infections too, but they don’t happen nearly as often as they do in children.
It is also important to note that people with certain allergies, chronic illnesses, and even your ethnicity can affect how often your child gets an ear infection. It’s important to know your family’s medical history so you can provide your child’s healthcare provider with the proper information that can prevent any potential threats.
How is an Ear Infection Diagnosed?
Your healthcare provider will look at your or your child’s ear using an instrument called an otoscope. A healthy eardrum will be pinkish-gray in color and translucent. If an infection is present, the eardrum may be inflamed, swollen, or red.
Your physician may also check the fluid in the middle ear using a pneumatic otoscope, which blows a small amount of air at the eardrum. This should cause the eardrum to move back and forth. The eardrum will not move as easily if there is fluid inside the ear.
Another test they may perform is called tympanometry. This uses air pressure to check for fluid in the middle ear. This test doesn’t test hearing. If needed, your healthcare provider will order a hearing test, performed by an audiologist, to determine possible hearing loss if you or your child has had long-lasting or frequent ear infections or fluid in the middle ears that are not draining.
Your healthcare provider will also check your throat and nasal passage and listen to your breathing with a stethoscope for signs of upper respiratory infections.
How is an Ear Infection Treated?
Treatment of ear infections depends on age, the severity of the infection, the nature of the infection, and if fluid remains in the middle ear for a long period. Your healthcare provider will recommend certain medications to relieve your child’s pain and fever. If the ear infection is mild, depending on the age of the child, your healthcare provider may choose to wait a few days to see if the infection goes away on its own before prescribing an antibiotic.
Antibiotics may be prescribed if bacteria are thought to be the cause of your child’s ear infection. Then, your provider may want to wait up to three days before prescribing antibiotics to see if a mild infection clears up on its own when the child is older. If your or your child’s ear infection is severe, antibiotics might be started right away.
Even though the chances of your child experiencing an ear infection are extremely high, this shouldn’t be of much concern if you act quickly and are knowledgeable of your family’s health history. Chances are the infection won’t last very long and as your youngster ages, it will soon become a bad memory. Even though there are many over-the-counter drugs and at-home remedies you can use to help heal your child, the healthcare experts at Chai Care will happily take a look as they supply their expert knowledge and quality care!
* Legal disclaimer: The content of this article and the entire Chai Care blog is for educational purposes only; it does NOT constitute medical advice and must not be considered as such. Please consult a medical professional regarding any symptoms or health concerns you or your loved ones.