Ear infections are one of the most common infections among infants. While there are different ear infections, otitis media is the most common. Statistics show that most kids will contract an infection at least once before they turn 2 years old.
Causes and Symptoms of Ear Infections
The ear has three parts: outer, middle (behind the eardrum) and inner (regulates hearing and balance). The two types of ear infections are swimmer’s ear, which affects the outer ear, and otitis media, an inflammation of the middle ear.
Ear infections are caused by viruses or bacteria. Swimmer’s ear is often brought on by the moist environment created after swimming, while middle ear infections occur due to the clogging of the eustachian tubes.
These tubes normally drain from the middle ear to the back of the throat, but as fluid builds up, the pressure becomes painful and leads to an earache.
The eustachian tubes can become blocked because of:
- Cold, flu and sinus infections
- Excessive mucus and saliva produced during teething
- Cigarette smoke
- Infected or overgrown adenoids (spongy tissue in the back of the nasal cavity)
Symptoms to watch out for in children:
- Constant crying along with pointing or tugging at the ears
- Increased crankiness
- Loss of balance
- Pus-like secretions
- Loss of appetite
- Fever of 100 degrees Fahrenheit or higher
- Vomiting and diarrhea (acute cases)
Symptoms in adults:
- Fluid secretion from the ear
- Hearing loss
- Sore throat
Ear infections are not contagious, but the cold and flu that trigger them can be. Hence, it is important to follow a healthy diet and proper hygiene to reduce the risk of infection.
Diagnosis and Treatment of Ear Infections
Ear infections are relatively easy to diagnose and may be discovered with a simple physical examination of the ear. Most ear infections clear up by themselves and depending on the child’s age, pain levels and other symptoms, the doctors may choose to wait and watch for the first 48 to 72 hours to see how it progresses.
Adults could try over-the-counter pain medications like ibuprofen or acetaminophen and ear drops. It is not advisable to give aspirin to children, however, you could apply a warm, moist washcloth over the ear to lessen the pain.
Infants under 6 months with a fever or other symptoms may be given antibiotics. The first line of treatment is usually amoxicillin, which is highly effective and easy on the stomach and intestines. If the infection is resistant to this treatment, other antibiotics like azithromycin or augmentin may be used.
Some alternative therapies that may help with ear infections include:
- Chamomile, lycopodium, belladonna and pulsatilla
- Immune boosters like garlic and echinacea
- Essential oils from cloves, lavender and geranium
- Cod liver oil
- Vitamin A supplements
- Valsalva’s maneuver: a technique that can help open up the eustachian tubes and provide relief from pressure and pain
If the infection persists, a surgery may be required to drain and ventilate the middle ear.
You can minimize the risk of infection by following good hygiene practices and not being around cigarette smoke. Also, remember not to feed the baby while he or she is lying down; this could irritate the eustachian tubes and lead to fluid build up. Ear infections tend to come and go on their own, but if required, do not hesitate to meet the physician and find the best course of action for you or your child.
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