For some children, ear infections seem unavoidable. With the cold and flu season upon us, otitis media (commonly known as middle ear infection) becomes a real possibility. It’s good to know the symptoms and treatments before you or a family member come down with this common infection.
- What is a middle ear infection (otitis media)?
A middle ear infection occurs behind the eardrum and can be caused by either bacteria or viruses. It can be painful because of the buildup of fluid and pressure in the middle ear, as well as inflammation of the middle ear cavity and the eardrum itself.
- Understanding the symptoms
When someone suffers from a middle ear infection, they can experience ear pain, irritability, fever, or have trouble sleeping and/or hearing. If a child has an infection, but may not be old enough to verbalize it, they may tug on their ear, or become uncharacteristically fussy or grumpy.
- Treatment for otitis media (for adults or children over the age of 6 months)
In most cases, a middle ear infection will clear up on its own. Managing the pain and making sure it doesn’t become more serious becomes the priority. Most pain can be managed with a warm, moist washcloth held to the ear and age appropriate pain medication. A healthcare provider may prescribe antibiotics for a bacterial infection if symptoms last longer than 48 hours, or if the child is under the age of 6 months. It is important to distinguish between a bacterial and viral infection, as only bacterial infections should and can be treated with antibiotics.
- When to visit a healthcare provider
If the ear pain becomes severe, or lasts longer than 48 hours, a visit to the healthcare provider is recommended. If it is suspected that a child under the age of 6 months old suffers from otitis media, call your doctor right away.
- How does a middle ear infection occur
Most middle ear infections are caused by either bacteria or viruses. A common cold, the flu, or allergy symptoms that cause congestion and swelling of the nasal passages, throat, and eustachian tubes can sometimes lead to an infection. The eustachian tube controls the pressure in the middle ear, like when your ears “pop” on an airplane or scuba diving. One of the reasons ear infections are common in children is because their eustachian tubes are smaller and less pitched than they are in adults. This makes it harder for fluid to be able to drain. In children, the eustachian tubes can more easily become blocked, which as a result, allows the fluid to build up and the ear infection to thrive.