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Ear infections are common in children, but you need to know how to handle your child’s ear infection so that it doesn’t pose any serious medical risks. This article will tell you the types, causes, diagnosis, and treatment for ear infections in children.
Ear Infection in Kids
Ear infections are among some of the most common reasons that children visit doctors. Research shows that around 75% of children will have at least one ear infection before they turn 3 years old. Ear infections have different names associated with them such as glue ear, secretory otitis media, middle ear infection or serous otitis media. If your child has an ear infection, you need to know how to deal with it and the appropriate treatment and remedies. There is no cause for panic as ear infections can be easily managed and cured. This article will discuss in depth on the causes, symptoms, diagnosis, and treatment of ear infections in children.
What Is An Ear Infection?
An ear infection is caused due to bacteria which occur when there is a fluid build-up behind the eardrum. The middle ear is an air-filled space behind the eardrum. It contains vibrating bones that convert sound from outside into signals that can be perceived by the brain. Ear infections can be painful, because the buildup of fluid puts pressure on the eardrum. Children are more prone to ear infections than adults and statistics show that 5 in 6 children will have an ear infection before they are 3 years old. The scientific name for an ear infection is Otitis Media (OM). It can be acute or chronic, where chronic cases can permanently damage the middle ear.
Types Of Ear Infections
Ear infections are of three types –
Acute Otitis Media (AOM)
This is the most common and least serious type of ear infection, where the middle ear gets infected and swollen, and fluid is trapped behind the eardrum. A fever can usually accompany this infection.
Otitis Media With Effusion (OME)
After an ear infection has occurred, they may be some fluid left behind the eardrum, which causes OME. A doctor can accurately spot the fluid even if your child does not experience any symptoms.
Chronic Otitis Media With Effusion (COME)
This type of infection results in fluid repeatedly entering the middle ear, with or without an infection occurring. This has an adverse effect on hearing ability and reduces the ability to fight other infections.
Causes Of Ear Infections In Children
An ear infection starts with a cold, upper respiratory infection, the flu or an allergic reaction. This leads to an increase of mucus in the sinuses and slow passage of fluid through the Eustachian tubes. If the upper respiratory infection is bacterial, then the bacteria can spread to the middle ear. If it is viral, like a cold, then the bacteria can be drawn to a microbe-friendly environment and move into the middle ear resulting in a secondary infection. The infection can also inflame the nasal passage, throat and Eustachian tubes. Below are a few causes –
1. Role Of Eustachian Tubes
These tubes connect the middle ear to the back of the throat. These tube ends open and close to regulate air pressure in the middle ear, resupply air to this area and drain other secretions. A respiratory infection or allergy can block these Eustachian tubes, leading to the buildup of fluid in the middle ear. An ear infection can occur if these fluids get infected by bacteria. The Eustachian tubes of younger children are smaller and more horizontal than those of older children. So, fluid is more likely to get stuck there without draining away.
2. Role Of Adenoids
The adenoids are tissue pads at the back of the nasal cavity. They play a role in immune system activity and react to passing bacteria and viruses. Sometimes, bacteria can get trapped in these adenoids. This leads to the Eustachian tubes and middle ear getting inflamed.
Ear Infection Symptoms In Kids
If an adult has an ear infection, the symptoms are easy to spot. They will have ear pain and pressure, fluid in the ear and reduced hearing. In kids, these symptoms have a wider range, which are
- Tugging or pulling at the ear
- Lack of appetite
- A headache
- Loss of balance
- Crying more than usual
- Difficulty hearing
- Ear pain in children, especially when they lie down
- Difficulty while sleeping
- Fluid draining from the ear
Diagnosis Of Ear Infection In A Child
A diagnosis of an ear infection in kids can usually be made with just the symptoms alone, but still, a proper testing will be done. The doctor initiates the test by asking about your child’s health of late. He will then use an otoscope, an instrument with a light attachment, to check for fluid behind the eardrum. He can also use other methods to check further for the infection.
1. Pneumatic Otoscopy
A doctor can also use a pneumatic otoscope to check for fluid behind the eardrum. It does this by blowing air inside. A normal eardrum vibrates easily unlike one with a fluid buildup which will be stiff. A red, bulging eardrum indicates infection.
The doctor will use a device which will seal off and adjust the pressure inside the ear canal. It measures the movement of the eardrum and allows the doctor to determine the pressure of the middle ear.
3. Acoustic Reflectometry
This method works by bouncing sound against the eardrum. The amount of sound bouncing back indicates fluid buildup levels. An infected ear will reflect more of the sound waves as compared to a healthy ear which will absorb the sound waves.
A doctor can use tympanocentesis if an ear infection has not responded well to treatment. This involves making a small incision in the eardrum and letting some fluid escape out from behind it. The fluid is studied to determine the cause of the infection.
How Is A Child Treated For Ear Infection?
In some cases, ear infections can heal without any medication. The treatment of an ear infection depends on the severity of the condition and age of your child. Some treatment options the doctor can suggest include –
1. Pain Medication
Even if the infections are mild, ear infections are usually painful. The doctor may suggest ibuprofen or a paracetamol for minimizing the pain. These will also help control the fever caused by the infection. But remember to take it as prescribed by the doctor as higher doses can be harmful.
2. Wait and watch
Sometimes the doctor will not prescribe any medication and will wait for the ear infection to heal on its own in a week or two. This method places trust on the body’s immune system to work well on its own.
3. Warm compress
The doctor may ask you to prepare a warm compress for your child. Just wet a sanitised washcloth with warm water and place it over the affected ear. This should provide ear pain relief for kids.
If the infection is severe, the doctor may prescribe antibiotics. If your child has a fever of 102 degrees or higher and has moderate to severe pain in the affected ear for more than 48 hours, this method is employed. If your child is less than six months old and has a severe middle ear infection, antibiotics will be the first treatment.
5. Tympanostomy Tubes
This is for children who get repeated ear infections. The ENT specialist will create a tiny hole in the eardrum and place a small tube called a tympanostomy tube into the hole. This helps to drain the fluid and prevent its buildup. The tube stays in place for six months to a year and then falls out on its own. Likewise, the hole will also heal on its own. This method is not very often employed, due to a risk of damaging the eardrum.
How Can You Prevent Your Kids From Getting Ear Infections
Kids develop ear infections due to an immature immune system and difference in the anatomy of the ear. There is no sure-shot remedy to prevent an ear infection, but the below recommendations should help –
1. Personal Hygiene
Children touch many surfaces every day, which are covered with dust and germs. By making your child wash his hands with soap and water before meals, you can minimize the chances of pathogens entering his body and causing cold and coughs, which are usually the culprits of ear infections.
2. Exposure To Second-Hand Cigarette Smoke
Smoking is not only injurious to health but injurious to your little one’s health. Inhaling second-hand smoke can cause your child to develop coughs leading to ear infections. So, quit smoking if you do and keep him away from other people who smoke.
3. Childhood Vaccines
Visit your doctor and get an appointment for your child to be vaccinated against pneumonia and meningitis. Vaccinated children tend to have lower incidences of ear infections.
4. Seasonal Flu Shots
You can protect your child from seasonal flu by giving him his flu shots. Consult your doctor to find out when your child should get his shot. This will protect him from ear infections.
When your child is born, it is important to properly breastfeed him for at least a year. Breastfeeding transfers antibodies which can protect your child from infections and diseases as he grows up, as well as from bacterial and viral infections.
6. Position during bottle feeding
When bottle-feeding your infant, ensure that he is upright to reduce the risk of milk flowing into his middle ear.
7. Playing with sick children
Avoid letting your child play with other sick children and minimize his exposure to group care or large groups of children. Viruses and bacteria are easily transferable from contact with human secretions.
Home Remedies To Cure Children Ear Infection
There are many natural remedies for ear infection in children. Some of them are –
Salt is not only an ingredient in food but also therapeutic. It can ease ear pain and discomfort in children which is brought on by an ear infection. Just heat salt over low heat in a pan. Put the salt into a cloth which is clean, and make sure it is not too hot to burn your child’s skin. Put it on the infected ear for about ten minutes for pain relief. Repeat this several times a day as it can coax out the accumulated fluid from the middle ear.
Garlic is a natural antibiotic and also is used to relieve pain. Put two cloves of garlic with two tablespoons of sesame oil in a pan and cook until the garlic turns brownish-black. Remove the oil and while it is hot (not burning hot), pour a few drops into the affected ear.
3. Holy Basil
Holy basil can be used for minor ear infections and pain. Crush 4-5 leaves of basil and extract the juice. Apply the juice to the infected ear, taking care not to let it into the ear. It should relieve pain and spur healing.
4. Apple Cider Vinegar
If a child’s ear infection is due to a fungus, you can use this. Dilute apple cider vinegar with water. Take as much water as vinegar and mix well. Dip a cotton ball into this solution and put it into your child’s ear for five minutes. Take it out and make your child lie sideways to drain the liquid out of the ear.
5. Warm Water Bottle
Put a warm water bottle on your child’s affected ear, holding on to it to relieve its weight, for about 5 minutes. This will reduce the pain of the infection.
Bake an onion with the skin on for 30 minutes. Slice it in half and wrap one half in a clean cloth. Place this pack onto the affected ear for 5 minutes. This should ease the pain and facilitate healing.
7. Mango Leaf Juice
This is one of the more common home remedies. Wash three mango leaves and crush them to extract the juice. Warm the liquid and pour 3 drops into the affected ear. Your child should feel the pain lessen within minutes. Repeat two to three times a day.
8. Head Elevation
Elevate your kids head by placing a pillow under a mattress on which he is resting his head. This can facilitate drainage of fluid from the middle ear.
Make your child sip water. This movement can sometimes unblock the Eustachian tube, allowing fluid to drain out of the ear.
10. Tea Tree Oil
Tea tree oil has antibacterial properties and can heal ear infections. Mix one teaspoon of apple cider vinegar, three drops of tea tree oil, two tablespoons of olive oil and one teaspoon of colloidal silver. Warm this concoction and pour it into the affected ear. Let it stay for five minutes after which make your child lie on his side to allow it leave the ear with the help of gravity. Make sure to cover the pillow with something as this mixture can leave stains. Use three times for best results.
An infection in the ear is something that any child might get. However, you don’t want to risk the chance of your child’s hearing being permanently affected or him having problems with speech and other developmental processes. For this reason, always consult a doctor when your child develops an ear infection. If managed properly, they rarely present long-term problems.