Guide to Treating Ear Infections
Ear infections are one of the most common reasons for visits to the doctor. In fact, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics, approximately 3 out of 4 children will have at least one ear infection by their third birthday.
Things You Need To Know About Ear Infections
So what exactly is an ear infection? And how can you treat it effectively? Here are a few things you need to know about treating ear infections.
What is an ear infection?
An ear infection, also known as Otitis Media, is a bacterial or viral infection that affects the middle ear—the air-filled space behind the eardrum that contains the tiny vibrating bones of the ear.
Ear infections often occur when fluid builds up in the middle ear and bacteria or viruses grow in this warm, moist environment.
This can happen when the Eustachian tube, which drains fluid from the middle ear, becomes blocked due to allergies, a cold, or enlarged adenoids.
What are the symptoms of an ear infection?
The most common symptom of an ear infection is a pain in the affected ear.
Other symptoms may include fever, tugging or pulling at the affected ear, trouble sleeping, fluid drainage from the ear, loss of balance, and hearing loss.
If your child is experiencing any of these symptoms, it’s important to see a doctor right away.
How are ear infections diagnosed?
Your doctor will likely start by asking about your symptoms and medical history.
They will then examine your ears, nose, and throat and may use a lighted instrument called an otoscope to look inside your ears.
Your doctor may also order a hearing test if they suspect that the infection has caused hearing loss.
In some cases, your doctor may also order a CT scan or MRI to get a more detailed look at your middle ear.
How are ear infections treated?
Most ear infections will go away on their own within a few days without any treatment.
However, if your child is in pain or has a fever, your doctor may prescribe antibiotics or other medication to help relieve their symptoms.
In some cases, surgery may be necessary to drain fluid from the middle ear or to insert tubes into the eardrums to prevent future infections.
Are there any home remedies for treating ear infections?
Several home remedies can help ease the pain and discomfort of an ear infection including over-the-counter pain relievers such as ibuprofen or acetaminophen, placing a warm cloth over the affected ear, using a humidifier in your child’s bedroom, and elevating their head while they sleep so that fluid can drain more easily from their middle ear.
When should I see a doctor?
You should see a doctor right away if your child has any of the following symptoms: severe pain in their ears that does not go away with over-the-counter medication, drainage from their ears, fever, vomiting, diarrhea, signs of dehydration such as excessive thirst or dry mouth, irritability, trouble sleeping, lack of appetite, or difficulty hearing.
Can adults get ear infections?
Ear infections are most common in children but adults can get them too.
The same risk factors that increase a child’s risk for developing an ear infection also apply to adults including exposure to secondhand smoke, allergies, upper respiratory tract infections such as colds or sinus infections, environmental irritants such as pollution or dust mites, and anatomical abnormalities such as a deviated septum or small Eustachian tubes.
Adults with diabetes are also at increased risk for developing ear infections due to changes in blood sugar levels that can weaken their immune system’s ability to fight off infection-causing bacteria and viruses.
Are there any complications associated with untreated ear infections?
If left untreated, an ear infection can cause serious complications including hearing loss (temporary or permanent), balance problems (due to damage to the inner ear), facial muscle paralysis (due to damage to nerves connected to the muscles), meningitis (inflammation of the tissues surrounding the brain and spinal cord), and rupture of the eardrum (which can lead to chronic drainage from the ears).
Therefore it’s important to see a doctor if you think you or your child may have to an ear infection so that it can be properly treated before any complications develop.
Is there anything I can do to prevent my child from getting an ear infection?
There are several things you can do to reduce your child’s risk of developing an ear infection including avoiding exposure to secondhand smoke, keeping them up-to-date on their vaccinations (especially those against influenza), washing their hands frequently to reduce their exposure to bacteria and viruses, avoiding exposure to environmental irritants such as dust mites or pollution, and treating allergies and upper respiratory tract infections promptly to reduce congestion in their Eustachian tubes.
Will my child need to take antibiotics every time they get an ear infection?
Antibiotics are only necessary if your child has a bacterial infection.
Most viral infections will resolve on their own within 7-10 days without antibiotics.
If your child does require antibiotics for treatment, they must finish taking all of those the medicine even if they start feeling better after a few days.
Stopping antibiotics treatment early can allow bacteria that were killed partially by those the medicine time to reestablish themselves and become resistant to that particular type of antibiotic.
If this happens, it’ll be much harder for doctors to treat future infections because they won’t have access to the full range of these powerful medications.
Ear infections can be painful and uncomfortable, but they are usually treatable with the right medical care. It’s important to recognize the signs of an ear infection in children and adults so that treatment can begin as soon as possible.
There are also preventative measures you can take to reduce your child’s risk of developing an ear infection.
If antibiotics are required for treatment all medication must be taken even after symptoms improve – otherwise, bacteria may become resistant to the antibiotic used which could make future treatments more difficult.
With a few simple steps, you should be able to keep yourself or your loved one comfortable during recovery from an ear infection.