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Ear infections

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In early childhood, ear infections are the most common illness to strike under the age of two. Three out of four children have been afflicted with an ear infection before the age of three. Otitis media, which is the medical term for a middle ear infection, is the most common type of ear infection that children of all ages tend to come down with. Ear infections are typically caused by a bacterium, although foreign objects in the ear canal can also attribute to an ear infection.

EAR INFECTIONS SYMPTOMS

The symptoms of an ear infection can include fevers, ear pain, stuffiness of the head, pressure behind the eye, and ear drainage. Small children who can not communicate that their ears are bothering them will likely tug on their ear or continuously put their fingers or other objects in their ear in an attempt to rid themselves of discomfort. Ear infection pain can range from mild to severe.
Ear infections
Image: Ear infections

EAR INFECTIONS CAUSES

Bacteria are typically the cause of ear infections. Ear infections can often begin with the common cold which allows fluid to build up in the ear and develops into an ear infection. Older children and adults who spend ample time swimming in brackish water such as the Chesapeake and other bays and some lakes are prone to a bacterial ear infection known as swimmer’s ear. The bacteria in the water stays lodged in the middle ear and develops into a common swimmer’s ear infection.

Young children can suffer from ear infections due to Eustachian tube dysfunction or swelling, which commonly squeeze and equalize pressure. Fluid is easily blocked and turns infections in children’s Eustachian tubes due to their small size. Adenoids can often swell and trap fluids which cause ear infections in young children. Adenoids typically fight infection, but once they swell due to foreign objects or illness, their swelling causes middle ear infections.

EAR INFECTIONS RISK FACTOR

Many factors are associated with a child’s likelihood to develop ear infections, including family history, their exposure rate to child care and other children, age, race, second hand smoke, season, and the feeding position of the baby. Children who are exposed to other children on a regular basis are likely to develop more colds and ear infections due to their immature immune system and their tendency to touch everything and everyone. Native Americans and Eskimos in cold climates tend to get more ear infections than Caucasians.

EAR INFECTIONS DIAGNOSIS

Diagnosing an ear infection requires a physical examination by a physician. The physician may use any number of instruments to check for an ear infection. Fluid in the ear reduces the ability of the eardrum to move. Looking into the patient’s ear with an otoscope can usually determine if an ear infection is present, as the eardrum will be red and irritated and sometimes swollen. Instruments which puff air or sound into the ear to determine eardrum movement are also commonly used, especially if fluid has been in the ear for any length of time.

EAR INFECTIONS SIDE EFFECTS

Complications from an ear infection include hearing loss. Short term hearing loss is normal while the ear is infected. Long term ear infections are possible if fluid remains in the ear long enough to damage the small bones or the eardrum. A ruptured eardrum is possible if the fluid causes enough pressure against the eardrum, which results in pus and blood oozing from the child’s ear. Usually the eardrum will repair itself unless repeated ruptures occur, in which case surgical repairs may be necessary.

EAR INFECTIONS TREATMENT

Treating an ear infection is relatively simple. Many ear infections clear on their own and require no treatment, although an over the counter pain reliever may be recommended to ease the child’s discomfort. A persistent ear infection may require antibiotics. Antibiotics are not prescribed as often as they used to be to avoid over exposure to antibiotics at an early age. Antibiotics may also be prescribed if the child has had numerous ear infections within a close period of time or if the ear infection presents with effusion. Pain relieving ear drops may be prescribed to help relieve discomfort.

Caring properly for an ear infection will help it clear up faster with less discomfort. Placing a warm, moist cloth over the ear and keeping your child calm for a few days will help the infection clear up faster. A little extra patience is usually in order as they are little and they do not feel well.

Coping with ear infections, especially chronic ear infections can be taxing. Children do eventually outgrow their tendency to get multiple ear infections in short periods of time. Keeping the child comfortable and making sure they get some extra rest and quiet play time is effective in helping the child cope with their discomfort.

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