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Ear Infections in Children

Ear infections are a prevalent problem, mainly among younger children resulting in millions of visits to the doctor annually. Most children will experience at least one ear infection during childhood. Ear infections can occur in the ear canal, in the middle ear, or deep behind the eardrum, and can be quite painful.

What is an ear infection?

An ear infection occurs when mucus or fluid becomes trapped in the ear canal, often due to, or occurring with a swollen Eustachian tube. This fluid becomes infected by harmful bacterial or viral germs that are trapped in with the fluid.

Common Symptoms to Watch Out For

Run-of-the-mill ear infection symptoms include:

  • Earache (sometimes intense pain)
  • Ear discomfort and itching
  • Problems hearing
  • Fever
  • Vomiting or upset stomach
  • Fluid leakage from the ear
  • Fussiness in babies or irritability in children

What Causes an Ear Infection?

Some of the things that can cause ear canal swelling and fluid blockages that lead to an infection include:

  • Swimming (a type of ear infection known as swimmer’s ear is very painful and often reoccurs)
  • Upper respiratory infections
  • Colds, flus or allergies
  • Swollen or infected adenoids

Treatment for Ear Infections

Most ear infections are viral by nature, therefor antibiotics will not help the infection. If your doctor determines this is the case, they will suggest treatments to help manage the symptoms of the infection (such as NSAIDs for the pain) and likely instruct you to keep a close eye on the child and bring him or her back if symptoms don’t improve within a week or so. If the doctor suspects the infection is bacterial, they will prescribe a course of antibiotics. Often treatment is case dependant, and may begin with home remedies, managing medications and a watchful eye.

Potential Complications

Complications are rare in healthy children, however, it is possible for the mucus not to properly clear, leading to a condition known as ‘glue ear’, or for your child to have some hearing problems for a week or two after the infection is treated. Another potential complication is a perforated eardrum. These issues often resolve themselves within a few weeks. A more serious potential complication of ear infections occurs when the ear infection is left unmonitored and spreads to nearby places such as the brain or other nearby nerves or tissues. This can be life threatening, so if your child appears to get much sicker when they should be getting better, continues to have a fever or develops any new questionable symptoms, be sure to seek treatment for him or her immediately.

Can You Prevent Ear Infections?

Most of the time, yes, ear infections can be prevented by taking a few key precautions. Try not to allow your small child to put objects in their mouth or share toys. Keep them away from contagious children if possible. Preventing babies from drinking while lying down will ensure liquid doesn’t enter the ear canal where bacteria can grow. Studies show that children who use pacifiers or are exposed to second-hand smoke tend to get ear infections more frequently, so try to limit pacifier use and never let your children be around second-hand smoke. Lastly, keep your child up-to-date on their immunizations as to prevent undue illness that could lead to infections.

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