Most of us know the dreaded signs- pulling at the ear, irritability, fever, or even drainage. How can something so small cause so much discomfort in your little one? Ear infections are a common diagnosis, especially in younger children. Although there are different types of ear infections, the two most common are middle ear infections and outer ear infections (oftentimes referred to as swimmer’s ear).
So what causes a middle ear infection? It oftentimes starts with an upper respiratory tract infection, such as a cold or sinus infection, or allergies. If fluid or mucus collects and clogs the canal behind the eardrum, it creates the right home for an ear infection to develop. The area becomes inflamed, leading to the development of pus causing pressure on the eardrum. The result is ear pain, often fever, and sometimes discharge. Children are more prone to these types of infections because the canals behind their eardrums are smaller and more flat making drainage of the fluid and mucus more difficult.
The good news is usually ear infections can clear on their own, with pain being managed by common pain relievers such as Tylenol and Motrin. If your child is over the age of 2, we can start with the “watch and wait” method before starting antibiotics. The bad news is if the ear infection does not go away, or keep happening, again and again, it can cause real problems. When the “watch and wait” method is no longer working, it’s time to bring your child in to see your provider at Mainstreet Pediatrics to be prescribed an oral antibiotic. This is only for if your child is over the age of 2. If the child is younger than 2, they should be seen right away if there is a concern for an ear infection.
So then what causes an outer ear infection? An outer ear infection, or swimmer’s ear, is caused by an infection in the outer ear canal. The one your child sticks their fingers in! Outer ear infections can develop when moisture and bacteria enter the ear, causing an infection of the skin in the ear canal. This occurs commonly when the ear is not fully dried after swimming or a bath. This is part of the reason why wax is needed for our ears. It acts as a protective barrier for the skin.
So how do I prevent my child from getting an ear infection? While many kids get ear infections, some are more likely to get them than others. If you had a lot of ear infections as a child, your child may be more prone to developing ear infections as well. Genetics aside, there are a few things you can do to help prevent further infections:
- Breastfed children are less likely to develop an ear infection.
- Try to eliminate exposure to tobacco smoke.
- Being up-to-date with immunizations, especially influenza and pneumococcal conjugate (Prevnar) vaccines.
- Manage your child’s allergies by avoiding triggers and keeping up with allergy medications.
- When your child has a cold, promote drainage with humidification and keeping up with fluids.
While these things can help, there is not a guarantee that the ear infection won’t happen again. Watch for symptoms and bring your child into Mainstreet Pediatrics to see a provider as soon as they require it.