Back to school and the colder months tend to be the toughest when it comes to childhood illnesses. During this time we tend to have more infectious diseases, so usually, you have more colds which create congestion in the respiratory airway and tend to block the Eustachian tube. The Eustachian tube is the little tube that goes from the middle ear to your nose. The tube gets clogged, and you start having an accumulation of liquid behind the eardrum which would normally drain from the tube and in some cases, it can become secondarily infected with bacteria which give you a classic middle ear infection.
The middle ear infection is most common in little children. Those less than three years of age are much more prone to ear infections because they have narrower Eustachian tubes. Instead of having an angle that allows gravity to let mucus drain through the tube when you are standing, it is horizontal. This means it does not drain as well and is more likely to result in an ear infection. Contrary to popular belief, all ear infections are not the same. There are many types of ear infections and many different microorganisms that can be the cause.
The immense majority of ear infections are due to virus. Anywhere from 60 to 80 percent are viral in origin, and when you have a virus in your system, it has to run its course. That means antibiotics will not be helpful in those cases. In the 20 to 40 percent that is bacterial, we have common germs for middle ear infections like pneumococcus also known as Streptococcus pneumonia or Haemophilus influenza. When you have a suspected bacterial ear infection, antibiotic treatment is advised. Remember that any infection has potential to spread and your sinuses or mastoid bone can get infected as well.
Some kids experience infection of the ear canal which is an infection of the skin essentially of the ear canal which is a swimmer’s ear. It is common more in adults if you spend time in the water. Prevention is difficult but if you have significant nose allergies and tend to be congested, you can potentially have an increased risk of middle ear infections. You can control it by trying not to be exposed to whatever you are allergic to like dust mites by putting special covers on your pillow or mattress or using a filter in a room. Find out what works for you. In certain cases, you can treat allergies with nose spray or an anti-inflammatory but usually getting ear infections is a combination of age and essentially plumbing or the way your middle ear is rigged.
Some people get ear infections more than others because of their anatomy. Early diagnosis through examination by the pediatrician is important. Some come in with a complaint of a cold and sometimes it can be muffled hearing. If there is a bacterial infection or you have a child with cold symptoms that are worsening, and he is getting an earache, fever, and pus behind the eardrum, he will be given antibiotic treatment. For the most part, kids outgrow ear infections when they pass three years of age because the anatomy of the middle ear is going to change.
Dealing with pain control is the key to surviving ear infections. Classic medicines like ibuprofen such as Advil or Motrin can calm the pain down significantly. Some people like home remedies such as using oil in the ear to soothe some pain. If you have a child with a minor cold and little complaint of an earache it is not necessarily all that bad to treat the pain and see how things come about. If it is not getting better, act accordingly. “If the pain is too intense or the child is infected, getting a high fever of 102 or 103 and above, getting awful drainage, tired and fussy it is better to have that checked by a physician.
Pediatricians’ guidance on ear infections has changed over the years. It is linked to the fact that antibiotics are way too often used inappropriately and we progressively see bacteria that are becoming more resistant. People come to see the pediatrician wanting a magic fix for their child to get better instantly. They may come in with what seems to be a viral infection and push to get antibiotics just in case but unfortunately in the long run this is detrimental. In severe cases of chronic middle ear infection or fluid, pediatricians refer to an ear, nose and throat specialist so they can place a little tube across the eardrum. The tube allows the mucus of the middle ear to drain out. This is done mainly to prevent speech delays because children that have liquid in their ear cannot hear well and when you look at little children that are six months to two years, that is when they learn to speak, and if they cannot hear they will not be able to speak well. The take-home message is to know that you are not alone in dealing with the burdensome pain of ear infections and to act early so your child can experience relief as soon as possible.