Although ear infections affect mostly children, they can happen to anyone with a cold, the flu or upper respiratory infection. When they occur, they can cause a variety of symptoms from mild to severe. As a parent, it’s important to understand the causes, symptoms and treatments for ear infections.
Children get more ear infections than adults because their small ear passages don’t drain well and their immune systems aren’t fully developed. Health studies show that two out of three children with colds get ear infections. If your child’s ears get sore, itchy or painful when touched, it may be an ear infection.
Most ear infections affect the middle ear and are caused by viruses and bacteria. Colds and flu are the most common causes, but upper respiratory infection and allergy also cause swelling that blocks the eustachian tubes that connect the middle ear to the throat. When air can’t reach the middle ear, a vacuum forms which pulls germs and fluid into the middle ear from the nose and throat. Swollen eustachian tubes prevent the ears from draining properly and set up a perfect breeding ground for viruses and bacteria growth.
Ear infections can occur in one or both ears. They may be chronic and persistent or come and go over a period of time. If your child has ear pain and a fever higher than 102 degrees, you should seek medical attention. Your doctor can diagnose an ear infection with an instrument called an otoscope that has a light and magnifying lens to closely examine the inner ear. Common symptoms of ear infections include:
* Sore ears that are painful to the touch
* Discomfort or pain inside the ear
* Feeling of pressure inside the ear
* Drainage with pus-like or yellow fluid
* Stopped up ears or hearing loss
* Crying or fussiness in infants or young children
With mild ear infections, warm compresses over the ears and over-the-counter pain medications, ear drops and decongestants can help. With ear pain, fever or drainage, it’s best to see your doctor who will most likely prescribe antibiotics. If the infection doesn’t improve, tubes may be placed in the ears to allow fluid to drain out properly. In chronic or severe cases, surgery may be necessary to remove enlarged adenoids.
If you’re a parent, talk to your doctor and find out more now about ear infections and your family’s health concerns.