Ear Infection in Children – Types, Causes, Signs & Treatment

Ear Infection in Kids

While you may take complete precautions to ensure your child’s health and safety, some issues might prop out of nowhere; for example, ear infections. Ear infections are common in children, but you need to know how to handle them so that they don’t pose any serious medical risks. This article will help you know 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 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, 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.

Let’s understand what an ear infection really is, and take a look at its causes, symptoms, diagnosis, and treatment, too.

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 the 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 –

1. 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.

2. 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.

3. Chronic Otitis Media With Effusion (COME)

This type of infection results in fluid repeatedly entering the middle ear, (with or without an infection occurring) persistent otitismedi can lead to chronic otitis media. 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 a 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.

Here’s how the infections can cause

1. Infection Due to Blockage of the Eustachian Tubes

The Eustachian tubes connect the middle ear to the back of the throat. The ends of the eustachian tubes 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 tubes, leading to the buildup of fluid in the middle ear. An ear infection can occur if the 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. Infection in the 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
  • Fever
  • 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 can usually be made with just the symptoms alone, but still, proper testing will be done. The doctor initiates the test by asking about your child’s health of late. He/she will then use an otoscope, an instrument with a light attachment, to check for fluid behind the eardrum. The doctor can also use other methods to check further for the infection.

Doctor Probing The Ear

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.

2. Tympanometry

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. Tympanocentesis

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 from behind it. The fluid is studied to determine the cause of the infection.

Treatment for Ear Infections

In some cases, ear infections can heal without any medication. The treatment of an ear infection depends on the severity of the condition and the 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 paracetamol for minimising 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 trusts the body’s immune system to work well on its own.

3. Antibiotics

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.

Ways to Prevent Ear Infections in Kids

Kids develop ear infections due to an immature immune system and differences 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 minimise the chances of pathogens entering his body and causing colds and coughs, which are usually the culprits of ear infections.

2. Exposure to Second-Hand Cigarette Smoke

Smoking is not only injurious to your 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.

5. Breastfeeding

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. Appropriate breastfeeding position and burping the baby are also very important and can help prevent ear infections. Parents must completely avoid feeding in the lying position to minimise the chances of an ear infection.

7. Playing With Sick Children

Avoid letting your child play with other sick children and minimise his exposure to group care or large groups of children. Viruses and bacteria are easily transferable from contact with human secretions.

An infection in the ear is something that any child might get. However, you don’t want to risk any permanent loss of your child’s hearing, which cal also cause speech and developmental issues. For this reason, always consult a doctor when your child develops an ear infection. If managed properly, they rarely present long-term problems.

Also Read:

Ear Piercing for Kids
Ear Pain in Children

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