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What Every Parent Needs to Know About Ear Infections

Updated on March 1, 2011

What Every Parent Needs to Know About Ear Infections

I remember when my son had his first ear infection. He was six months old. I also remember when he had his last one. He was six years old. In between those years, he had several ear infections, lost 30% of his hearing, which he later regained, and underwent three surgeries. The first surgery was to put tubes in his ear. Then one of the tubes fell out, so the second surgery was to put it back in. The last surgery was finally to take the tubes out of his ear. However, during the last surgery they had to patch a hole in one of his ears, which grew too big.

The repeated trips to the pediatrician, and the constant prescription refills of antibiotics were really frustrating. I just wanted the problem solved. When my son was about four years old, by word of mouth, I decided to go see an ‘Ear, Nose, and Throat’ specialist. I should have seen the specialist much sooner than later.

In all, the entire experience was overwhelming to say the least. It hurt to see my son go through what he did. I wish I knew then what I know now.

The Signs and Causes of Ear Infections

Three out of four children experience an earache or ear infection by the time they are three years old. Children are just more prone to ear infections than adults due to their environment which includes being in schools and daycares.

At the same time, if your child does have an ear infection, they most likely will have ear pain, a fever, and maybe even trouble hearing. If your baby has an ear infection, they may be irritable, run a fever, tug or constantly place there fist up to the ear.

Essentially, ear infections are caused by water, moisture, and bacteria growth also known as germs that get inside the inner ear. This buildup in the inner ear irritates the Eustachian tube, which is between the middle ear and throat. The irritation causes the tube to swell. The swelling puts added pressure and causes the ear to ache.

At the same time, when you feed your baby with a bottle or breast feed, be careful that the milk doesn’t drip down into the baby’s ear. This could happen without you even knowing, especially if the bottle is left in your baby’s mouth for long periods of time, or while they are asleep in the crib. Additionally, keep your child’s ear clear of moisture and water whenever possible.

Other causes of ear infections are exposure to cigarette smoke, allergies, saliva from your child, and frequent colds.

A Doctor's Point of View on Children's Ear Infections

 “Some ear infections can be misdiagnosed,” states Dr. Rod Moser, PA, PhD. Some clinics are cutting corners and doing quick exams, not providing accurate diagnosis of the ear infections. A doctor should always use an otoscope to check the ear. “There is absolutely no way to tell what is going on inside the ear if one is not used.”

Antibiotics are commonly given to treat the infections. The most common antibiotic is Amoxicillin. Most doctors will require that all the medication be used. Additionally, pain killers are also given to control the pain. 

However, according to WebMD, “Do not give aspirin to anyone younger than 20 because its use has been linked to Reye syndrome, a serious illness.”

If your child has frequent ear infections, ask your child’s pediatrician for a referral to see a specialist. The specialist may give your child additional tests, such as an Audiogram, which tests the hearing, and a Tympanogram, a machine that checks whether the eardrum moves normally.

If the doctor feels that fluid in the eardrum can interfere with a child’s hearing or that permanent damage is possible, then the doctor may feel it necessary by placing a hole in the ear drum and inserting a tube to keep it open. Ear tubes are inserted in the ear to prevent future ear infections. The procedure is usually an out patient procedure at a hospital, which takes about 1-2 hours.

Additionally, the removal of adenoids may be necessary, because research suggests that taking out the adenoids can reduce the number of ear infections a child has, but only if the child is age 4 years old or older.

Adenoids Definition: Lumpy clusters of spongy tissue that sits high on each side of the throat, behind the nose and the roof of the mouth.

Otoscope

Antibiotics are commonly given to treat the infections. The most common antibiotic is Amoxicillin. Most doctors will require that all the medication be used. However, more recently doctors are straying away from antibiotics. Additionally, pain killers are also given to control the pain. However, according to WebMD, “Do not give aspirin to anyone younger than 20 because its use has been linked to Reye syndrome, a serious illness.”

If your child has frequent ear infections, ask your child’s pediatrician for a referral to see a specialist. The specialist may give your child additional tests, such as an Audiogram, which tests the hearing, and a Tympanogram, a machine that checks whether the eardrum moves normally.

If the doctor feels that fluid in the eardrum can interfere with a child’s hearing or that permanent damage is possible, then the doctor may feel it necessary by placing a hole in the ear drum and inserting a tube to keep it open. Ear tubes are inserted in the ear to prevent future ear infections. The procedure is usually an out patient procedure at a hospital, which takes about 1-2 hours.

Additionally, the removal of adenoids may be necessary, because research suggests that taking out the adenoids can reduce the number of ear infections a child has, but only if the child is age 4 years old or older.

Adenoids Definition: Lumpy clusters of spongy tissue that sits high on each side of the throat, behind the nose and the roof of the mouth.

Make sure your kids wash their hands frequently
Make sure your kids wash their hands frequently

Actions Parents Can Take to Prevent Ear Infections

  • Since ear infections are less common in breastfed babies, you could consider breastfeeding your baby for at least the first 3 months-longer if you can.
  • If your child has allergies, take steps to remove any allergens from your home that cause trouble.
  • If your child is older, have them chew gum or do some other kind of chewing motion with there jaw. This has helped reduce chances of getting an earache or ear infection.
  • Cleaning your child’s nasal passage often, actually reduces the chance of them suffering an ear infection.
  • Keep your child away from people who have colds, if possible.
  • Wash your hands regularly when handling your child and have your child do the same frequently.
  • Remind your child not to touch their nose and eyes at the same time.
  • Avoid taking your child to places where people are smoking. Cigarette smoke can keep your child’s Eustachian tubes from working properly. The Eustachian tube connects the middle of the ear to the throat.

 

 Furthermore, if you suspect your child has an ear infection, take them into the doctor right away. And don’t be afriad to ask questions. Dr. Rod Moser, PA, PhD even advises patients diagnosed with an ear infection, to ask to see it. Have the medical provider show you that red and bulging eardrum. Buy your own otoscope. It can cost about $30-$40, although others are more expensive. Look in your child’s ear.  Dr. Rod Moser goes on to say that instead of expecting or demanding an antibiotic, ask if it is appropriate to delay using them for a few days. “More and more, I am giving the parents this choice,” Dr. Rod Moser says.

In conclusion, take your child’s ear infection serious and ask questions. Although there aren’t any surefire ways of preventing your child from having an ear infection, the above suggestions will greatly help.

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