Author: Dr. Gregory Stone
An ear infection is a bacterial or viral infection that develops in the middle ear. Fluid build-up and inflammation in the ear can cause significant pain. Symptoms of an ear infection in children include:
- Ear pain
- Difficulty sleeping
- Tugging or pulling at the ear
- Crying or acting more irritable than usual
- Loss of balance
- Fever of 100 degrees or higher
While many ear infections clear up on their own, your child’s doctor can help determine whether treatment is needed. Treatment options may include:
- Pain medication like acetaminophen (Tylenol) or ibuprofen (Motrin, Advil)
- Antibiotics, most commonly amoxicillin, are used to clear up bacterial infection, and
- Ear tubes, which are used to drain fluid and ventilate middle ears when infection is persistent
If your child has had three ear infections in six months or four in a year, ear tubes may be recommended, as chronic fluid in the ear can interfere with language and hearing development. Ear tubes are the most common surgery with anesthesia performed in children. Ear tubes are typically used in patients between the ages of one and three years old. Undetected by the naked eye, the tubes essentially keep the hole in the ear drum open to provide drainage and air flow to the middle ear. After about a year, the tubes will fall out on their own. By then, the child’s Eustachian tubes, which connect the middle ear to the throat, will have grown enough to resolve the ear problems and improve overall quality of life.
Reducing the Risk of Ear Infection
Ear infections are sometimes inevitable, especially if there’s more than one sibling in the household. The risk of infection also increases if there’s a family history of ear infections. The good news is there are things you can do to help prevent the risk of chronic ear infections:
- Limit exposure to secondhand smoke. Smoke from a burning cigarette, combined with exhaled smoke, releases unhealthy particles in the air Children living in homes where people smoke are at greater risk for developing ear infections than those whose homes are smoke-free.
- Breastfeed if possible. Breast milk is a known immunity booster. Studies have shown that breastfeeding newborns for at least six months can protect children from recurring ear infections.
- Choose a child care venue with fewer children. When there are fewer children in the room, there are fewer germs present – germs that can cause upper respiratory illness and lead to ear infections.
Most middle ear infections will clear up on their own. But if your child is experiencing symptoms of an ear infection, schedule an appointment with your family medicine doctor as soon as possible.