All you need to know about Ear Infections
Ear infections are the second most common illness in childhood after colds. About half of babies have at least one ear infection by the time they turn one year old, and most have had at least one ear infection by their third birthday.
An ear infection can be caused by bacteria or a virus. It happens when fluid builds up in the area behind your child’s eardrum and then becomes infected. Normally, any fluid that enters this area leaves quickly through the eustachian tube, but if it’s blocked – as often happens during colds or sinus infections – the fluid gets trapped in the middle ear and becomes a perfect breeding ground for germs.
Children are more likely than adults to get ear infections because they have short, horizontal eustachian tubes. As children grow to adulthood, their tubes triple in length and become more vertical, so fluid can drain more easily.
The onset of signs and symptoms of ear infection is usually rapid. In children, these may include:
- Ear pain, especially when lying down
- Tugging or pulling at an ear
- Fever of 38 C or higher
- Difficulty sleeping
- Loss of appetite
- Difficulty hearing or responding to sounds
- Drainage of fluid from the ear
When to see a Doctor
Call your child’s doctor if:
- Symptoms last for more than a day
- Ear pain is severe
- Your infant or toddler is sleepless or irritable after a cold or other upper respiratory infection
- You observe a discharge of fluid, pus or bloody discharge from the ear
Doctors use an otoscope, a small instrument similar to a flashlight, through which they can see the eardrum. After which they will decide on the next steps taking into consideration the following:
- The type and severity of the ear infection
- How often your child has ear infections
- How long this infection has lasted
- Your child’s age
- Risk factors your child may have
- Whether the infection affects your child’s hearing
Tips to Reduce the Risk of Developing Ear Infections:
- Prevent common colds and other illnesses.
Teach your children to wash their hands frequently and thoroughly and not to share eating and drinking utensils. If possible, limit the time your child spends in group child-care. Try to keep your child home from child-care or school when ill.
- Avoid secondhand smoke.
Exposure to tobacco smoke or high levels of air pollution can increase the risk of ear infection.
- Breast-feed your baby.
If possible, breast-feed your baby for at least six months. Breast milk contains antibodies that may offer protection from ear infections.
- Talk to your doctor about vaccinations.
Seasonal flu shots and pneumococcal vaccines may help prevent ear infections.