EAR Infaction Facts
What It Is
Most children will have at least one ear infection by the time they're 3 years of age. In fact, acute otitis media -- middle-ear infections -- account for some 24.5 million visits to the paediatrician each year. Ear infections are the second most common childhood illness, surpassed only by the common cold, says Sylvan E. Stool, MD, FAAP, a paediatric ear, nose, and throat specialist at Children's Hospital, in Denver. Here are answers to some commonly asked questions about this frequent ailment.
Why does my child get ear infections?
Young children are prone to ear infections for several reasons. For one thing, their immune systems are still developing, making them more susceptible to colds and other viral infections. Also, a child's Eustachian tube -- the duct that connects the middle ear to the back of the throat -- is short and positioned somewhat horizontally, making it easy for bacteria to pass from the throat to the ears.
When children are sick with a cold, their Eustachian tubes become blocked, and the middle-ear space between the eardrum and the Eustachian tube fills up with fluid. This fluid can put painful pressure on the eardrum and become a breeding ground for bacteria.
How do I know if my child has an ear infection?
It's reasonable to suspect that your child has an ear infection if she complains of persistent pain or pressure in her ears and develops a fever of 100 degrees to 104 degrees, particularly if she's had a recent case of the sniffles.
Ear pain will be most noticeable during meals, when swallowing may be painful, or at night when lying down increases pressure on the eardrum. Other symptoms include fussiness, difficulty hearing, pulling on their ears, loss of appetite, and yellow, white, or blood-tinged fluid draining from the ears.
What kind of treatment will my child's paediatrician recommend?
If your paediatrician determines that your child has an ear infection, she will most likely prescribe a 10-day course of antibiotics. Once your child begins the antibiotics, symptoms such as ear pain and fever should go away within 24 to 48 hours. Some paediatricians are taking a more conservative approach and adopting a wait-and-see attitude before prescribing antibiotics to children who exhibit only mild symptoms. In many cases, a mild ear infection will clear up on its own.
Is there something I can do to relieve the pain?
You can ease your child's discomfort with a non-aspirin pain reliever. Your paediatrician can advise you on the proper dosage for your child. Cold medicines, such as decongestants and antihistamines, are not effective in treating ear infections. Non-medicinal treatments include placing warm compresses or a heating pad, set on low, against your child's ear. You can also keep your child sitting up as much as possible to relieve pressure on her eardrum, and give older children an extra pillow at night.
What should I do if my child continues to get ear infections?
Children who have persistent fluid in the ear or who get one ear infection after another (as many as four infections in six months) and have noticeable hearing loss may be candidates for preventive treatment. One option is to keep these children on a low dose of antibiotics, which has been shown to reduce the frequency of ear infections. Another option is to surgically insert pressure-equalization (PE) tubes in the child's eardrums. In this procedure, called a tympanostomy, a small incision is made in the child's eardrum, and a tiny plastic tube is fit into the slit to act as a ventilator, allowing air into the middle ear and decreasing the risk of harmful bacteria becoming trapped there. The tubes require almost no special care, other than keeping water out of your child's ears, and usually fall out on their own within 6 to 18 months.
Can there be complications as a result of my child's ear infections?
Frequent ear infections or those that go untreated may lead to persistent hearing loss, which can cause speech delays in a young child. Since normal hearing is critical for speech and language development in the first three years of life, it's important to contact your paediatrician if you suspect an ear infection in your child. In rare cases, untreated ear infections can lead to serious complications, such as mastoiditis (an infection of the skull behind the ear), meningitis (an inflammation of the membranes around the brain and spinal cord), balance problems, and permanent hearing loss.
How to prevent Ear Infection
Breastfeed. Breastfeeding can play a role in preventing ear infections by passing along immunities and helping the tube in the inner ear function better. In fact, the longer you breastfeed, the less likely your child will suffer from ear infections.
Don't smoke. Living with second-hand tobacco smoke can increase your child's risk for ear infections by up to 50 percent! Studies show that the particles in tobacco can congest the tube in the inner ear. This congestion prevents the tube from being able to drain fluid and sets a child up for an ear infection. Even if you only smoke outdoors, your baby can be exposed to those dust particles from your hair or your clothing.
Avoid giving your baby a bottle while he's lying down. When a baby is sucking and swallowing while in a horizontal position, the tubes of his inner ear begin to open, allowing fluids and germs from the throat to get into the middle ear. It's these fluids and germs that can "infect" the ear. If you're bottle-feeding your baby, try to hold him as upright as possible while he's feeding and avoid letting him take a bottle to bed.
Prevent the common cold. Just as tobacco particles can cause congestion that leads to ear infections, so can the common cold. Limit your baby's exposure to large crowds and avoid having her held by people who are sick. Once your child gets older, encourage her to wash her hands often, especially before touching her eyes, nose, or mouth.
Source: The Internet
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