If you have young children, then you have no doubt had to cope with ear infections from time to time. They are the most common reason that children visit medical professionals. Ear infections can pose a serious problem to a child, if left untreated, since they can have temporary or permanent effects on the child’s hearing at a time in their life when language acquisition is extremely important.
Unfortunately, treating and diagnosing an ear infection correctly can be tricky—the effects of an infection can be mimicked by simple fluid build up behind the ear and the antibiotics that we rely upon to treat these infections are losing their effectiveness as bacteria become resistant to them.
The term ear infection can actually refer to two types of infection affecting the ear. An outer ear infection is usually the result of water in the ear causing inflammation and infection. A middle ear infection is more serious and is caused by the build up of fluid in the middle ear, behind the eardrum. The fluid build up is the result of bacteria and viruses that have traveled through the bloodstream to the middle ear and inflamed the area. In both cases the symptoms are similar:
• Ear pain
• Sense of fullness or pressure in one ear
• Muffled hearing
• Drainage from one ear
In addition, fluid build up can occur in the middle ear even when it is not infected. This can cause the muffled hearing issues, but is usually painless to the child. It cannot be treated effectively with antibiotics.
The best way to handle the issue of ear infections is, of course, to avoid them if possible. The biggest issue when it comes to preventing ear infections is cold and flu prevention. Bacteria and viruses that cause ear infections often enter the body and cause a generalized illness first. Keep your child away from anyone who is obviously sick and practice other common sense hygiene behaviors to minimize their risk of illness.
You can also take measures to protect your child by keeping them away from second hand smoke, breast-feeding them, preventing them from falling asleep with a bottle, and feeding them in a sitting position to prevent fluid from reaching the middle ear.
If your child contracts an ear infection despite these precautions, then you will need to take him or her to a doctor to get properly diagnosed and treated. You doctor will determine whether the issue is an infection or simply fluid build up. For an infection, your child will most likely be treated by a combination of antibiotics. They may be extra strength or prescribed for an extra long course in order to enhance their effectiveness against the infection, but your child should feel relief a few days after treatment begins. Frequent cases of ear infection may require more aggressive treatment, but most children outgrow this stage fairly rapidly.