Ear infections in the middle ear are called otitis media. They are quite common in kids between 6 months and 3 years of age. They are not serious and aren’t contagious at all but ear infections occur when a child has already had a cold for a couple of days.
Viruses or bacteria cause middle ear infections in most of the cases. To understand it well, look at it this way, the eustachian tube connects the middle ear with the back of the throat. Foreign particles such as germs travel from the throat when the eustachian tube is swollen. This may cause infection in the middle ear. Generally, the severity of symptoms depends on the type of infection. The same are listed below.
Acute otitis media: It is the most common form of ear infection. In general cases, acute otitis media is not life-threatening. The middle ear becomes infected & swollen, and fluid is trapped behind the eardrum.
Otitis media with effusion: After the resolution of ear infection, there are chances of fluid remains behind the eardrum. A patient may not experience symptoms, but a doctor will be able to spot the remaining fluid.
Chronic otitis media with effusion: When the fluid repeatedly returns to the middle ear, with or without an infection, this condition is called COME. This reduces the capability to fight infections and has a negative impact on hearing ability.
In kids, a sign of an ear infection is acting irritable or crying that cannot be soothed. Kids with an acute ear infection have a fever or, sometimes, trouble sleeping. Tugging on the ear is not always a sign that the child has an ear infection but it should warn you about discomfort.
Common symptoms of an acute ear infection in kids or adults include:
- Ear pain or earache
- Fullness in the ear
- The feeling of general illness
- Hearing loss in the affected ear
The ear infection can start right after a cold. Immediate drainage of fluid from the ear may reflect that eardrum has ruptured. All benign ear infections involve fluid behind the eardrum. A patient can use an electronic ear monitor to see the fluid.
Who is at higher risk for ear infections?
- Kids less than 5 years old, because they have smaller Eustachian tubes
- Kids who attend daycare, because they get colds repeatedly
- Kids with allergies
- Kids exposed to cigarette smoke
- Kids who were not breastfed
One important thing that parents of small infants need to that if the kid swallows milk while lying, it can enter the eustachian tube and cause inflammation. This increases the risk of an ear infection. Kids should be held upright while drinking from a bottle. Older children can complain of an earache. It’s obvious that kids might not be able to say they have an earache, they may:
- have an unexplained fever
- have trouble sleeping
- tug or pull at their ears
- have trouble hearing quiet sounds
Also Read: Common Ear Problems in Children
How does an ENT specialist diagnose an ear infection?
ENT specialist diagnoses ear infections by looking at the eardrum with an otoscope. They locate fluid in the middle ear, identify the color & position and monitor the pressure in the middle ear. Also, viral infections can make the eardrum look red however antibiotics are not really required.
A doctor might prescribe ibuprofen to reduce the pain. Remember not to give over-the-counter medications to kids & children under 6 years without talking to GP. The exceptions are medications used to treat fever.
When do children need tubes in their ears?
If your kid has frequent ear infections or has trouble hearing because of problems in the middle ear, he may need a tube inserted through the eardrum. The tube helps to keep air pressure equal on both sides of the eardrum and helps fluid drain from the middle ear.
How can I prevent my kid from an ear infection?
- Wash the kid’s hands and your’s to reduce the chance of catching a cold
- Breastfeed your baby
- Avoid bottle-feeding when the kid is lying down
- Change the bottle to a cup by 1 year of age
- Don’t smoke, and keep the kid away from any secondhand smoke
- Ensure the kids gets the pneumococcal vaccine
- Ensure the kid gets a flu shot every year
Sometimes, kids have repeat infections in the ear that seem to go away between episodes. They may receive a daily dose of antibiotics to prevent new infections. But the antibiotics are not really helpful for long-term usage.
Surgery for chronic ear infections
If an infection is persistent even after usual medical treatment, or if a child has several ear infections, ENT specialist may recommend ear tubes:
- A small tube is inserted into the eardrum, keeping open a small hole that allows air to get in so fluids can drain more easily
- The tubes fall out by themselves; those that don’t fall out may be removed in the doctor’s office
- Removing enlarged adenoids with surgery may be considered if ear infections are persistent