Ear infections are one of the most common childhood afflictions; up to 50% of all children will experience one by the time they reach their first birthday. Children are vulnerable because their Eustachian tubes aren’t fully-grown, making it easier for fluid to become trapped in the middle ear. As painful as they are, most ear infections clear up in a matter of days, and rarely lead to complications.
Ear Infection Causes
Most ear infections are caused by viruses or bacteria, and may follow a cold or upper respiratory infection. When the Eustachian tube – a drainage path for fluid in the middle ear – swells, germs become trapped and an infection occurs. This leads to a painful earache that may be accompanied by fluid drainage and temporary hearing loss. Other symptoms include crying and irritability, fever, headache, dizziness, lack of appetite, and trouble sleeping.
Treating Ear Infections
Because ear infections are common and usually disappear on their own after a few days, many doctors prefer waiting for nature to run its course before prescribing treatment. Pain in the ear can be treated with a warm, moist washcloth or compress held to the ear, and over-the-counter pain medications and eardrops. Children should never be given aspirin because it has been linked to a potentially fatal brain condition called Reye’s syndrome.
More severe cases, or those that don’t clear up after a few days, are usually treated with antibiotics – especially when the cause has been deemed bacterial. Remember, when giving your child antibiotics, it’s necessary to continue the full course of treatment, even if your child’s symptoms show improvement. Otherwise, the infection may return.
If your child suffers from chronic ear infections – those that never completely heal, or recur often – then, surgery may be in the child’s best interest. One of the most common procedures involves inserting ventilation tubes into the eardrum; they are removed when the Eustachian tube has reached its full size. Other children may benefit from surgical removal of the tonsils or adenoids. It is estimated that surgery has a 90% success rate in eliminating chronic ear infections.