Ear Infection In Children: Causes, Prevention, And Treatment Ear Infection In Children: Causes, Prevention, And Treatment
“Mommy, my ear hurts.” Those are the last words any mother wants to hear from her kid. But ear infections in children are as... Ear Infection In Children: Causes, Prevention, And Treatment


“Mommy, my ear hurts.” Those are the last words any mother wants to hear from her kid. But ear infections in children are as common as a runny nose. In fact, that is one of the primary reasons why children get ear infections. Seeing your little angel in pain can be heart-wrenching. Your instincts will be to put some oil in the ear to ease the pain and discomfort. But never put anything in your kiddo’s ear without getting the go-ahead from your pediatrician.

Panicking isn’t going to help, but MomJunction does have a few suggestions for you, to take care of that pain for good!

Definition Of Ear Infection In Children:
Most healthcare practitioners use the term ‘ear infection’ for a middle ear infection or otitis media. However, it also refers to outer ear infection. Kids tend to get this infection more commonly than adults.

An ear infection occurs when the middle ear is inflamed, which occurs when fluid builds up behind the eardrum and is unable to drain out. This causes a rapid growth of bacteria, leading to an ear infection.

Statistics show nearly five out six children get at least one ear infection by the time they are three [1]. Statistics also show that ear infections are the most common causes for visiting a doctor.

Causes Of Ear Infection In Children:
Bacteria and viruses can cause ear infection in children. But how do these microbes get inside the ear in the first place? Learning about the ear structure can help understand this.

The ear helps us hear as well as balance. So it plays a major role in our lives. This unique organ has three parts – the outer ear, middle ear, and inner ear. All three parts help your kid hear and maintain his balance.

When your child hears, the first thing that happens is the movement of sound waves to the outer ear. This is the visible portion of the ear. From the outer ear, sound waves travel through the ear canal and reach the middle ear, where the eardrum and three tiny bones, known as ossicles, are located. When the waves hit the eardrum, it vibrates, and the ossicles intensify them, allowing the vibrations to reach the inner ear. It is here that vibrations turn into electric signals and are sent to the auditory nerve that connects the ear to the brain. When the electric signals or nerve impulses reach the brain, your child’s brain interprets them as sound and thus, enabling him to hear.

For the middle ear to function normally and healthily, it should have the same pressure as the surroundings. This pressure is maintained by the Eustachian tube, which is a small tube connecting the middle ear to the back of the throat, just behind the nose. The tube allows air to enter the middle ear so that the pressure inside is the same as the pressure outside. Also, the Eustachian tube allows mucus to drain from the middle ear to the throat.

In kids, the Eustachian tube is nearly horizontal, and this can sometimes hinder the movement of mucus from the middle ear to the throat. Cold and allergies can inflame the lining of the tube, blocking the mucus from leaving the middle ear. This build-up of mucus causes the pressure to increase inside the ear. Microbes can migrate from the nose and throat into the middle ear from the Eustachian tube. These pathogens proliferate in the mucus, leading to an infection [2].

Adenoids: The Other Culprit:

We all have two gland-like organs at the back of the upper portion of the throat. These are the adenoids. In kids, adenoids are quite large and can sometimes block the opening of the Eustachian tubes, preventing the mucus from draining into the middle ear. This, in turn, allows germs to breed, leading to an infection.

Other Contributors To Ear Infection:
The chances of getting an ear infection increase if your child is exposed to second-hand cigarette smoke, drinks milk from a bottle, or attends daycare. As the proximity among kids is more in a daycare center, the infection spreads rapidly. As a result, it can lead to an ear infection, especially if there is a family history of ear infections.

Symptoms Of Ear Infection In Children:

Your child becomes quite irritable, and you may find it hard to deal with him

Tugging the ear
Trying to poke the ear with his finger
Have trouble hearing
May vomit
Lack of appetite
Child feels drained out
If your child has a middle ear infection, he may manifest the following symptoms:
When a thick yellow discharge is oozing out of the ear, it indicates that the eardrum has burst. Don’t panic. It would ease pressure, and the eardrum will heal by itself without treatment
Fever of about 104ºF
On the other hand, an outer ear infection has the following symptoms:
You may notice a discharge coming out of the ear
Your child may complain that he feels his ear is full
The lobe of the ear appears red and swollen
The ear lobe is painful to touch [3]

Diagnosis Of Ear Infection In Children:
Your pediatrician will diagnose the infection based on the symptoms, and tests.

1. Pneumatic Otoscopy:
Pneumatic otoscopy allows the pediatrician to check for the presence of fluid behind the eardrum. He will use a special medical device called pneumatic otoscope that blows air gently into the ear. The eardrum is flexible, and when air reaches it, the drum moves. If there is fluid behind the eardrum, it will not move, leading to a diagnosis.

2. Tympanometry:
Tympanometry measures the movement of the eardrum. The device first seals the ear canal and then adjusts the internal pressure in the canal, which causes the eardrum to move. This movement gives the doctor a measure of the pressure inside the ear. Based on the amount of pressure, the pediatrician can make a diagnosis.

3. Tympanocentesis:
If the physician suspects the presence of fluid behind the eardrum, he may pierce the eardrum to allow the fluid to flow out. The discharge is then checked for bacteria and germs, allowing the doctor to prescribe the right course of treatment. This method is used only when your child fails to respond to other treatment protocols.

4. Acoustic Reflectometry:
Acoustic reflectometry is another test pediatricians use to check for the presence of fluid behind the eardrum. The more fluid the middle ear has, the greater the sound is reflected from the eardrum. And, that is what acoustic reflectometry allows the doctor to ascertain.

Treatment For Ear Infection In Children:
In some cases, ear infections are self-limiting and heal without the need for medication. However, the treatment for an ear infection depends on the severity of the infection and the age of your child.
Some of the treatment options that the doctor may suggest include:

1. Pain Medication:
Let’s face it. Ear infections are painful even if infections are mild. Your physician may suggest ibuprofen or paracetamol to minimize pain. If the infection causes fever, these medications can also lower it [4]. However, be sure to follow the dosage prescribed by your pediatrician, else it could be dangerous.

2. Wait-And-Watch:
As strange as it may sound, your pediatrician may decide not to provide any treatment for the ear infection. This is because ear infections have a way of healing without any medication as the infection may go away in a week or two.

“The body’s immune system can usually resolve them. More and more studies show that children treated or untreated are at the same place ten days out. We are constantly amazed at how many ear infections resolve on their own,” says Dr. Robert M. Jacobson, Chair of the Mayo Clinic’s Department of Pediatric and Adolescent Medicine.

3. Warm Compress:
Children in pain are irritable and a handful to manage. Your pediatrician may recommend a warm compress to provide pain relief. Just wet a clean washcloth with warm water. Squeeze out excess moisture and place it over the affected ear. It should ease the pain.

4. Antibiotics:
If the infection is severe or the symptoms worsen, your physician will prescribe antibiotics. Usually, antibiotics are the go-to medication if your child has a temperature of 102.2ºF or higher, and has moderate to severe pain in the affected ear for at least 48 hours.

Neonatologists are more likely to prescribe antibiotics if your kid is less than six months old and has a severe middle ear infection.

5. Tympanostomy Tubes:
Children who get repeated ear infections are the best candidates for tympanostomy tubes. The ENT specialist creates a tiny hole in the eardrum and places a small tube (tympanostomy tube) into the incision. This helps drain out the fluid and prevents it from building up. The tube stays in place anywhere from six months to a year and then falls off on its own. The hole in the eardrum closes and heals on its own.

Dr. Jacobson says, “Tubes don’t actually stop ear infections, just symptoms, and fluid retention. We don’t want to do it too often because there is an increased risk of damage to the eardrum.” [5]

Prevention Of Ear Infection In Children:
1. Personal Hygiene:
Teach your child the importance of washing hands with soap and water. Children touch so many surfaces every day, which are covered with germs. By making sure your child washes his hands before meals, you can minimize the chances of pathogens entering his body, preventing cold and coughs, which are the leading causes of ear infections.

2. Avoid Exposure To second-hand Cigarette Smoke:
Not only is smoking injurious to your health, but it also is detrimental to the health of your little angel. second-hand cigarette smoke can result in ear infections. Quit smoking and ensure that your child has no access to second-hand smoke from anywhere else too.

3. Make Sure You Kid Receives His Childhood Vaccines:
Consult your child’s pediatrician to find out which vaccines will protect your little one from infections like meningitis and pneumonia. Children who are vaccinated tend to have lower incidences of ear infections.

4. Seasonal Flu Shots:
Flu is seasonal, but you can protect your child from the flu by giving him flu shots. Consult your child’s doctor to find out when you should bring in your child for the shot. This will protect him from ear infections.

When your child is born, it is important to breastfeed him for at least a year. Your milk contains antibodies that protect your kid from a range of infections and diseases. Remember his immune system is still developing and breastfeeding can protect your child from viral and bacterial infections.

Home Remedies For Preventing Infection In Children:
1. Salt:
Not only does salt flavor our food, but it also has therapeutic use. It can ease the pain and discomfort brought on by an ear infection. Just heat some salt in a pan on low heat. Place the hot salt into the clean cloth. Make sure the warm compress is not too hot to burn your child’s delicate skin. Place it on the affected ear for about 10 minutes for pain relief. Repeat this several times a day for optimal results. Anecdotal evidence states that it can draw out the accumulated fluid from the middle ear.

2. Garlic:
Since time immemorial, garlic has been the herb of choice in kitchens. It has natural antibiotic and pain relieving properties. Just cook two cloves in two tablespoons of sesame oil until the garlic turns black. Strain the oil and while it is hot (not scalding hot), pour two to three drops in the affected ear.

3. Holy Basil:
You can use holy basil for minor ear infections and associated pain. Crush about four to five leaves of holy basil and extract the juice. Apply the juice around the infected ear. Don’t let the juice enter the ear. It should alleviate the pain and spur healing.

4. Apple Cider Vinegar:
If the ear infection is due to a fungus, this is the treatment you want to use. Dilute the apple cider vinegar with water. Take as much water as the vinegar and mix well. Dip a cotton ball in the solution and plug your little one’s ear. Allow it to stay for around five minutes before taking it out. Now get your child to lie down sideways to facilitate drainage from the ear. You can also get your child to gargle with the vinegar and water solution to ease the infection in the throat and Eustachian tubes.

5. Warm Water Bottle:
The warm water bottle reduces the pain and makes your child more comfortable. Put the warm water bottle on the affected ear, while holding on to it to relieve the weight of the bottle, for about five minutes. Do not use heat for extended periods of time.

6. Onion:
Bake an onion with the skin for about 30 minutes. Slice into half and put the halved portion into a thick cotton cloth. Place the onion pack on the affected ear for about five minutes. It should ease the pain and also facilitate healing of the infection.

7. Mango Leaf Juice:
In tropical countries, where mango grows ubiquitously, this is a common home remedy for ear infections. Wash three mango leaves thoroughly and then crush them to extract the juice. Warm the liquid slightly and then pour three drops into the infected ear. Your kid should feel the pain abating within a few minutes. Repeat the home remedy two to three times a day for optimal results.

8. Head Elevation:
You can facilitate draining of the fluid from the middle ear by elevating your kid’s head. Don’t place a pillow under the head, as it is a suffocation risk. Instead, put it under the mattress to gently lift up your sweetie’s head.

9. Water:
Encourage your kiddo to sip and swallow water. This motion of drinking sometimes unblocks the Eustachian tube, allowing the fluid to drain out of the ear.

10. Tea Tree Oil:
Tea tree oil has antibacterial properties and can heal infections, including ear infections. Mix one teaspoon of apple cider vinegar, two tablespoons of olive oil, one teaspoon of colloidal silver, and three drops of tea tree oil. Warm this concoction slightly and pour it into the affected ear. Let it stay for about five minutes before getting your child to turn over and lie on his side to allow the oil mixture to drain out of the ear. Place something on the pillow and bed to catch the liquid or your linen will be stained. Use this home remedy three times a day for best results.

Ear infections are common childhood infections. However, if your cutesy has a persistent ear infection, it is cause for concern. You child could lose his hearing, have problems with his speech and suffer from other developmental problems. Take ear infections seriously and seek medical help if they persist.

Henry Okafor

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