An ear infection can be described as an infection that occurs behind the eardrum. Ear infections are the common reasons children go to see the doctor. Children suffer from ear infections whenever viruses or bacteria infect and cause a buildup of fluid behind the eardrum.
This causes swelling or bulging of the painful eardrum. Ear infections are treated using pain-relieving medications, antibiotics, and the placement of ear tubes. Medically, ear infections are known as acute otitis.
Ear infection can also be known as a sudden infection in the middle ear. The middle ear is the space that is behind the eardrum. Almost every child will have an ear infection at one point in their childhood. They are one of the reasons why children frequently visit the doctor.
Most ear infections don’t need treatment because they disappear on their own. Sometimes the doctor may find it necessary to prescribe pain-relieving medications depending on the level of pain. In cases where an ear infection does not go away, the norm improves on its own, the doctor may consider prescribing an antibiotic.
Ear infections in children who are less than 2 years are treated using antibiotics. Parents should take their children to the doctor to confirm if the infection has healed. If the child has ongoing discomfort or pain, they should be taken to the doctor.
Ongoing ear infections and their side effects can cause serious hearing problems. Additionally, frequent ear infections and the buildup of fluid behind the eardrum can also lead to hearing problems.
Ear infections in children are brought about by viruses or bacteria that trap fluid in the area behind the eardrum. This area is also known as the middle ear. The middle ear is also known as the tympanic membrane.
The middle ear houses several delicate bones. These bones help in hearing. These bones are also known as ossicles and are classified into the hammer(malleus), the stirrup(stapes), and the anvil(incus).
Who is more prone to ear infections?
Ear infections that affect the middle ear are common illnesses in children. Children most affected by ear infections are those between the age of 3 months and 3 years. In some cases, children who are 8 years old can also get ear infections.
Among the children who get ear infections, 25% of them are likely to have a repeat infection. Risk factors for ear infections include:
There are several reasons why students are at a higher risk of ear infections compared to adults. In children, the eustachian tubes are more level and smaller compared to those in adults.
This feature makes it hard for the fluid to drain even in normal conditions. The eustachian tubes may be inflamed or swollen and blocked with mucus as a result of a cold and illnesses affecting the respiratory tract. The swelling or blockage makes it impossible for the fluid to drain out of the ear.
Another reason is that the immune system of a child is not as effective as that of an adult. This is because it is still in the process of developing. This means that it is a little hard for children to fight infections.
Adenoids are part of the immune system. Adenoids work by reacting to bacteria that pass through the mouth and nose. Occasionally, bacteria will get trapped in the adenoids. This causes a chronic infection that can easily pass to the eustachian tubes and the middle ear causing an ear infection.
Ear infections in children are caused by viruses and bacteria. Most ear infections occur after a respiratory infection or a cold. These viruses and bacteria pass through the eustachian tube and find their way into the middle ear.
The eustachian tube connects the middle ear to the back of the throat. Viruses and bacteria can also cause the swelling of the eustachian tube even as they pass to the middle ear. Once the eustachian tubes become swollen, they become blocked. This blockage prevents normally produced fluids from draining out of the ear. Instead, they get trapped in the middle ear.
Eustachian tubes in children are shorter compared to those in adults. This means that they have less of a slope. This difference in structure means that it is easier for eustachian tubes in children to become clogged which makes it more difficult to drain these fluids. This trapped fluid then becomes infected with bacteria or viruses which then can cause pain.
Medical terminologies and conditions related to ear infections
It is important to familiarize yourself with the terms that are likely to be used by the doctor when you take your child for an ear infection treatment. These terminologies and conditions include:
The virus or bacteria infects and traps fluid just behind the eardrum which causes the eardrum to bulge or become swollen. This causes what is known as ear infections. Ear infections occur suddenly and usually go away on their own most times. Those that go away are known as acute otitis media while those that come back and last longer are known as chronic middle ear infections.
Otitis media with effusion is also caused by blocked eustachian tubes.
Symptoms of Otitis media (middle ear infection)
Common symptoms of ear infections are;
Once the parent takes their child to the doctor, the first thing the doctor will do is ask them about the health of their child. They will want to know if the child has recently had a sore throat or a cold, if they are pulling their ears and if they are having trouble sleeping.
If the doctor suspects an ear infection, they will use an otoscope to look at the eardrum. If the eardrum appears red and swollen or bulging, it will be a sign of an infection.
Alternatively, the doctor may use a pneumatic otoscope. The pneumatic otoscope will blow a puff of air into the ear canal to help the doctor look for any fluid behind the eardrum. When there is no infection, the eardrum should easily move back and forth. One with fluid behind it will not.
If the diagnosis is unclear, the doctor will use tympanometry. Tympanometry is a diagnostic test that uses air pressure and sound tones. The doctor will use a tympanometer to measure the flexibility of the eardrum at different pressures.
A healthy eardrum is pinkish grey and clear. Infected eardrums will be swollen, red and inflamed. If need be, the doctor may also order a hearing test. A hearing test is usually done by an audiologist to determine the possibility of a loss of hearing. It can also determine if the child has had frequent and long-lasting infections or if there is fluid trapped in the middle ear.
Other tests that the doctor may conduct may involve checking the nasal passage and throat and listening to the child’s breathing using a stethoscope. This will help determine if the child has any signs of an upper respiratory tract infection.
Most doctors will prescribe antibiotics for ear infections. These antibiotics include amoxicillin which is to be taken for 7- 10 days. If the pain is too much, the doctor may recommend over-the-counter pain relievers like eardrops, ibuprofen, or acetaminophen. This can help reduce the pain and fever.
Children with flu-like symptoms or fever should not be given aspirin unless the parent has been instructed by the doctor to do so. If the child does not have a fever or severe pain and the doctor is unable to make a definite diagnosis, the parent will be advised to give it a day or two to see if the earache will go away on its own.
Doctors are recommended to closely follow and observe children with ear infections that cannot be definitively diagnosed. This is so especially with children between 6 months and 2 years.
If 2-3 days after the beginning of the symptoms there is no improvement, the doctor should start antibiotic therapy. However, antibiotics should be used cautiously to avoid the development of bacteria that is resistant to antibiotics.
If antibiotics are prescribed, the parent should ensure that child takes them as instructed by the doctor and for the duration prescribed. If the child improves within a few days, the parent should not stop the medication as this can allow the infection to recur. Parents should take their children for a follow-up to have the doctor check if the infection has gone away completely.
Treatment of ear infections depends on several factors. These include the nature of the infection, age, the severity of the infection, and if the fluid buildup remains in the middle ear for a long time.
If the doctor thinks that the infection is caused by bacteria, they will prescribe antibiotics. However, they may wait for 3 days before prescribing them to see if the infection will go away on its own, especially in older children. If the doctor thinks the infection is severe, they will start the child on antibiotics right away.
Before prescribing antibiotics, the doctor will consider the child’s temperature, the severity of the infection, and the age of the child. The child should improve within a few days after seeing the doctor.
If the child does not feel better, you should call the doctor or take your child to the hospital because they might need to be put on a different antibiotic. Even after the infection goes away, fluid may remain in the middle ear but will disappear on its own within 3-6 weeks.
To avoid recurring ear infections, the parent should limit factors that put their child at risk of ear infections. For instance, parent should keep their children away from people who smoke and not let them go to bed with a bottle.
However, ear infections may keep recurring even after taking these precautions. Ear infections may keep coming back, sometimes there could be 5-6 infections in a year. In such a case the doctor may wait for several months to see if the condition improves on its own.
If ear infections keep coming back despite being treated with antibiotics, the doctor is likely to recommend a surgical procedure to put a small ventilation tube in the eardrum. This tube will help prevent fluid buildup behind the eardrum and help improve airflow. These tubes can remain in position for 6-9 months and will need to follow up visits if they fall out.
If the tubes do not help in preventing infections, the doctor will then consider removing the adenoids to prevent the spread of the infection to the eustachian tubes.
The best way to prevent ear infections is to avoid or reduce factors that are linked to ear infections. Some of the things that can do to lower the risk of their child getting ear infections include:
Children below 2 years should be vaccinated starting from 2 months. Vaccinated children have less risk of getting ear infections compared to those who are not vaccinated. Children in daycare should be vaccinated.
Almost every child will develop ear infections at one point of their childhood. Ear infections in children are caused by bacteria and virus. Once the ear is infected with virus or bacteria, fluid builds up behind the eardrum.
Ear infections are more common in children for a number of reasons. One being that their immune system is not as effective as that of adults. However, ear infections are easily diagnosed and most of them do not require treatment.