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All About Ear Infections

An ear infection develops whenever a viral or bacterial infection affects your middle ear – which are sections of the ear that are right behind your eardrum. Due to the fluid build-up and inflammation within the middle ear ear infections may be quite painful.

Ear infections may be acute or chronic. An acute ear infection is short in duration but may be very painful. Chronic ear infections recur numerous times or don’t clear up. Chronic ear infection may permanently damage the inner and middle ear.

Ear infections occur whenever an allergy attack, throat infection or cold causes fluid to be trapped within the middle ear. It mainly affects children, and the symptoms might include yellow, thick fluid coming out of the ears and earaches.

Infection may affect the middle ear, the ear drum or ear canal. The cause of a majority of ear injuries are changes in pressure during scuba diving or a direct injury (like a blow to one’s ear), but an ear that is persistently painful might be a sign that there is an infection that needs to be treated. Since an ear scope (otoscope) might not be available for examining the inner ear and canal in remote areas, beginning therapy might not be appropriate until a doctor may be seen.

The Eustachian tubes don’t work correctly when they are filled with drain coming from the mucous or nose due to viruses, bacteria, colds or allergies due to drainage pressing on the eardrum, which causes pain. Chronic ear infections may last 6 weeks or even long, however a majority of them go away after 3 days on their own. Children who are exposed to illnesses on a regular basis from other kids (particularly during the winter) or from second-hand smoke have a higher chance of getting ear infections. Bottle-feeding also increases risk due to your baby lying down while feeding. There is some ear pain that is caused by foreign objects that might have gotten in the baby’s ears, earwax buildup or teething in babies. When there is an increase in pressure, it may cause the eardrum of your child to pop or rupture, which leaves a hole in their ear. This initial pop is painful, but it does relieve the pain and pressure.

Ear infection symptoms: Intense pain in the affected ear tends to be the first sign that your child has an ear infection. Although a young child will be able to tell you when their ear hurts, a baby can only cry. A child might pull repeatedly on an ear that hurts. Usually the pain it worse at night, and pressure is greatest when your child is laying down, sucking on a bottle or chewing. Other symptoms might include hearing loss, dizziness, vomiting, fever, cough or runny nose.

Frequent, chronic ear infections may cause permanent hearing loss. If your child is less attentive in school suddenly, does not respond to softer sounds, turns the volume up on music or TV or you have to speak louder, then you may suspect your child has suffered hearing loss.

Ear infection causes

Ear infections occur within the middle ear. They are either caused by a viral or bacterial infection. This infection creates pressure within the small space that is in between the back of your throat and eardrum. That area is the Eustachian tube. The tubes don’t work correctly when they are filled up with drainage from mucous or drainage from your nose due to viruses, bacterial, colds or allergies.

How ear infections are diagnosed

To check for ear infections, your doctor can use a small scope that has a light on it to look inside of your child’s ear. This tool is called an otoscope, and the infection isn’t visible without it. If there is fluid inside of the ear or the eardrum appears to be red, then the doctor will know there is an infection, or if the eardrum is ruptured, which leaves a visible hole, or your child has any related symptoms like dizziness, vomiting, fever, cough or runny nose.

At times it appears that children are constantly getting ear infections. In children, ear infections are quite common. Children tend to get an ear infection around two of three times that they get a cold. The reason why children are so prone to getting ear infections is due to the fact that their small ears don’t drain fluid as effectively as adult ears do. The immune system of children are immature as well, and that increases the chances of certain infections occurring.

Typically a child’s middle ear infection with start with either unhealthy bacterial growth or a viral infection (like a common cold). At times the middle ear will become inflamed and fluid will build up in back of the eardrum. At other times the Eustachian tubes – which are the narrow passageways that connect the middle wear with the back of the nose – will become swollen.

There are several reasons why children are more prone to those problems. Compared to adults, the passages within their ears are more horizontal, shorter and narrower. Since it is easier for germs to get into the middle ear, that means it is easier as well for fluid to become trapped in there. The immune systems of children are still developing just like the rest of their bodies. After infection has taken hold, it becomes more difficult for the body of a child to fight it compared to a healthy adult body.

Who gets ear infections the most?

Ear infections are quite common in young children and babies who are a lot more likely to get one than adults and older children. This is due to their Eustachian tubes (the connect the middle ear with the back of the nose) do not function as effectively as in adults and older children. The tubes are flatter (more horizontal), shorter and smaller in young children compared to adults. That makes it a lot easier for them to get block during a head cold, which occurs quite commonly in young children.

As children start getting older, their Eustachian tubes start working better. They get fewer colds as well, and often tend to outgrow having ear infections frequently. This tends to occur at around 7 year old, although some children will have problems beyond that age.

As pressure within the ear builds, pain builds as well, going from being a dull ache up to a stabbing, sharp pain. The pressure is intermittently relieved as the pain occurs in waves. This pain gets worse at night. The most reliable clue in an older child is when they tell you their ear hurts. However, most ear infections occur in children who are less than two years old. The best clue in younger children is evidence that they are in pain, like screaming or crying, irritability, fussiness,or suddenly having difficulty sleeping, particularly at night. Frequently they won’t have any pain the next morning.

Usually ear infections go away by themselves, but at times will need to be treated with antibiotics. There are some children who get ear infections repeatedly, which can cause long-term problems, and they might need to have surgery. It is recommended by the Royal Australian College of General Practitioners that middle ear infection in on-indigenous children ages 2 to 12 shouldn’t be treated with antibiotics unless widespread infection is evident.

What to do if you believe your infant has an ear infection

If you suspect your baby has an ear infection, call their healthcare providers. An ear infection can be diagnose by looking inside of your child’s ear canal. An instrument that is called an otoscope is used for this.

There are some ear infections that will clear up without being treated within a couple of days. Infections in young infants and severe infections might need antibiotics. If an older child has mild symptoms, then the provider might suggest to wait a couple days before antibiotics are started to see if an infection will clear up on its own.

If your child’s health care provide recommends antibiotics, make sure that your child takes them for however long they are recommended for (even if they feel better sooner than that). If antibiotics get stopped too soon, it might result in the ear infection coming back, and then stronger antibiotics will be required.

Your health care provider might all suggest ear pain treatment, like ibuprofen (Advil or Motrin) or acetaminophen (Advil) and ear drops at times. Following treatment, some children might have fluid inside of the ear that may affect their hearing for three weeks or longer. Once the fluid has clear hearing should go back to normal.

There are some children who are prone to getting repeated ear infection. In those cases, the health care provider might recommended low-dose antibiotic treatments for helping to prevent infections. If that doesn’t work, then some providers will recommend having tiny tubes inserted into the eardrums for draining the middle ear. These tubes might help to prevent language and speech problems that might result from hearing loss due to long-lasting or repeated ear infections.