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Ear infection

  • Overview


    Ear infection, also known as acute otitis media, refers to an infection in the middle ear which is an air-filled space located behind the eardrum and contains the tiny vibrating bones of the ear. Typically, children are more vulnerable to ear infections than adults.

    In most cases, ear infections can clear up on their own. Hence, the initial approach to treatment may involve pain management and monitoring. However, antibiotics may be required to eliminate the infection. Some individuals may be prone to recurring ear infections, leading to complications such as hearing problems and other serious issues.

  • Symptoms


    Ear infections can develop quickly and present various symptoms. For children, signs to watch include ear pain, trouble sleeping, crying excessively, fussiness, trouble hearing, loss of balance, fever of 100 °F (38 °C) or higher, fluid draining from the ear, headaches, and loss of appetite. Adults may experience ear pain, fluid drainage, and difficulty hearing.

  • When to see a doctor


    If you or your child are experiencing signs and symptoms of an ear infection, it is crucial to seek an accurate diagnosis and prompt treatment. It is recommended to contact your child’s doctor if any of the following occur: symptoms last for more than a day, symptoms are present in a child less than six months of age, severe ear pain is present, your infant or toddler is sleepless or irritable after a cold or other upper respiratory infection, or if you observe a discharge of fluid, pus or bloody fluid from the ear.

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  • Causes


    Bacteria or viruses commonly cause ear infections in the middle ear. These infections frequently occur due to another illness, such as a cold, flu, or allergy, which causes swelling and congestion in the nasal passages, throat, and eustachian tubes.

    The eustachian tubes are a pair of narrow lines that connect each middle ear to the back of the throat, behind the nasal passages. These tubes open and close to regulate air pressure, refresh air, and drain normal secretions from the ear. If the eustachian tubes become swollen, they may block and cause fluid to build up in the middle ear, leading to infection. The eustachian lines are narrower and more horizontal in children, making them more prone to blockages.

    Adenoids are two small pads of tissue located high in the back of the nose that are believed to play a role in immune system activity. If the adenoids become swollen and block the opening of the eustachian tubes, it can lead to middle ear infections. This is more common in children, who have larger adenoids than adults.

    Other middle ear conditions related to ear infections or similar problems include otitis media with effusion, chronic otitis media with flow, and chronic suppurative otitis media. These conditions can result in swelling, fluid buildup, and even a hole in the eardrum.

  • Risk factors


    Factors that may increase the likelihood of ear infections include:

    – Age: Children between 6 months and two years are more prone to ear infections due to the size and shape of their eustachian tubes and because their immune systems are still developing.
    – Group child care: Kids who attend group settings are more susceptible to colds and ear infections as they are exposed to more conditions, such as the common cold, than those who stay home.
    – Infant feeding: Babies who drink from a bottle, especially while lying down, are more likely to have ear infections than breastfed.
    – Seasonal factors: Ear infections are more frequent during the fall and winter, and people with seasonal allergies may be at a greater risk of developing ear infections when pollen counts are high.
    – Poor air quality: Exposure to tobacco smoke or high levels of air pollution can increase the chances of getting ear infections.
    – Alaska Native heritage: Ear infections are more common in Alaska Natives.
    – Cleft palate: Children with cleft palates may be more prone to ear infections due to differences in the bone structure and muscles, making it harder for the eustachian tube to drain.

  • Prevention


    There are several tips to keep in mind to decrease the likelihood of ear infections. First, it’s essential to prevent common illnesses like colds by teaching children to wash their hands frequently and not share utensils. Encourage them to cough or sneeze into their elbow, and limit their time in group childcare settings. If your child is sick, keep them home from school or child care.

    Secondly, it’s critical to avoid secondhand smoke by ensuring that no one smokes in your home and staying in smoke-free environments when away from home.

    Breastfeeding your baby for at least six months is also a good idea. Breast milk has antibodies that can protect against ear infections. Hold your baby upright if bottle-feeding, and avoid propping the bottle in its mouth while lying down. Do not put bottles in the crib with your baby.

    Lastly, talk to your doctor about vaccinations. Ask them about the appropriate vaccinations for your child, including seasonal flu shots, pneumococcal and other bacterial vaccines to help prevent ear infections.

  • *Please note that the information provided in the article is for reference purposes only. It is essential to consult a doctor before applying any of the suggestions mentioned.

Content Details

Medical info from Mayo Clinic, for reference only. Visit Hoan My for better advice.

Last updated on: 14/08/2023