Children are no strangers to ear infections. Thanks to Eustachian tubes that are still in development, and immature immune systems, they are especially susceptible to these painful ailments. As unpleasant as they are, most ear infections will run their course and clear up without any kind of special treatment.
What Causes Ear Infections?
Pediatric ear infections are the result of fluid accumulating in the space between the eardrum and inner ear. This happens when the Eustachian tube swells, usually due to a cold or allergies, trapping fluids and causing bacteria or viruses to grow. Pressure from these fluids pushes against the eardrum, causing pain.
In addition to ear discomfort, children often experience irritability, inconsolable crying, pulling or tugging on the ear, discharge of pus or fluid, a feeling of fullness, trouble hearing, difficulty sleeping, headache, fever, dizziness, vomiting and diarrhea.
Children most at risk for ear infections are aged 3 or younger, have weakened immune systems, suffer from allergies, or have a family history of ear infections. Other factors that increase the odds include coming down repeatedly with colds, exposure to cigarette smoke, being bottle-fed or using a pacifier, and attending daycare or preschool.
Treating an Ear Infection
An ear infection is usually diagnosed after an examination of your child’s ears with an otoscope. If they are red or contain excess fluid or pus, an ear infection is suspected. Sometimes a hearing test is given, particularly if ear infections have occurred repeatedly.
In the past, a course of antibiotics was the given treatment. Nowadays, doctors prefer to wait and see if the infection will run its course on its own. The child can be given over the counter medications to help control pain and discomfort, though aspirin should be avoided because of its link to Reye’s syndrome in young children. A warm compress pressed against the ear can also be helpful.
If symptoms persist or worsen after a few days, your child’s doctor is likely to take a more aggressive approach to treatment.