Ear infections usually are seen in children; however, it can occur at any age. It happens when fluid becomes trapped in the middle ear section due to various reasons like cold, allergy or throat infection. It can be either an acute or chronic infection. The fluid can cause inflammation and pain. Acute infection last for short while and is painful. Chronic ear infection is recurring and can cause permanent damage to the middle and inner ear if they do not clear up completely.
Causes of Ear Infection
Ear infection can be caused due to either bacteria or virus. Most of the infections are bacterial in origin. The most common bacteria to cause ear infection is streptococcus pneumoniae (pneumococcus). The respiratory syncytial virus and influenza virus are two types which frequently causes ear infection.
In usual case, upper respiratory or throat infection blocks the eustachian tubes which connect the middle ear to the throat. If air does not reach the middle ear, it will cause vacuum which in turn pulls the fluid from nose and throat in the middle ear. This fluid carries germs as well and since the tube is swollen, it does not drain back. The bacteria and virus use this built-up fluid as breeding ground and then lead to ear infection.
Symptoms of Ear Infection
The symptoms seen in children are:
- Pain in the ear, especially when lying down
- Difficulty in sleeping
- Frequently pulling or tugging the ear
- Irritability and crying
- Reduced hearing
- Loss in balance
- Fever above 100 degrees F
- Fluid discharge from the ear
- Headache and loss of appetite
Adults can exhibit the following symptoms:
- Ear pain
- Discharge of fluid from the ear
- Reduced hearing
When to See a Doctor
Ear infection can indicate other conditions as well. Doctor should be consulted in case of following conditions:
- Symptoms happen over one day
- Severe ear pain
- Irritability or sleeplessness after upper respiratory infection or cold
- Discharge of fluid, pus or blood from the ear
Risk Factors of Ear Infection
- Age group. Children in the age group between 6 months to 2 years are more susceptible to ear infections because they have less developed immune system and also due to the size and shape of the eustachian tubes.
- Child care centers. Children who are at such centers are exposed to higher infections like common cold and are thus at more risk than kids who stay at home.
- Bottle feeding. Babies who are bottle-fed, especially in the lying down position are more susceptible than breast fed babies.
- Season. Susceptibility increases during fall and winters because cold and flu is more prevalent at that time. Also seasonal allergies are higher due to high pollen count and this could lead to ear infection.
- Air pollution. Chances of contracting ear infection are higher when there is high exposure to polluted air, tobacco smoke, etc.
Treatment for Ear Infection
Usually ear infections heal on their own within 2-3 days without treatment, since the immune system clears out the bacteria or virus which cause the infection. However, if it is serious, certain treatment might be required as given below:
- Antibiotics. In case the ear infection does not heal within 2-3 days, the doctor may prescribe some antibiotics. It is usually prescribed for the child below 2 years of age when the infection is very severe, it has not subsided in 2-3 days or if any further complications are seen. They should not be taken as far as possible since they can have side-effects like diarrhea and rashes.
- Painkillers. Painkillers can be given to relieve the pain, even when antibiotics are being given. Some of the painkillers are Paracetamol and Ibuprofen. Local anesthetic can also be administered as ear drops to ease the pain.
- Eardrops. When the eardrums are intact, ear drops containing anti-pyrine-benzocaine-glycerin is given to relieve the pain. The bottle should be warmed up by placing in warm water and then the prescribed dose should be administered in the infected ear. Benzocaine can have serious side effects, for example, the oxygen carrying capacity of the blood decreases. Hence, it should not be given to children below 2 years of age. For other age groups, only the recommended dose should be given.
The surgery involves placing a drainage tube into the eardrum of the affected ear. It is a very common childhood operation. It has the following benefits:
- Helps in relieving hearing problems
- Prevents buildup of fluids and pressure in the middle ear
- Gets accumulated fluid drained away from the middle ear
- Provides ventilation in the middle ear after the fluid is drained away
- Prevents future ear infections
You will know the process of the surgery by watching the video below:
3. Home Remedies
- To lessen the pain, place a warm and moist wash cloth over the affected ear
- Adequate rest will help in fighting infection
- Put 2-3 drops of warm onion juice in the ear
- Put 1-2 drops of warm olive oil in each ear
- Take a cup of salt or rice in a sock, warm it and place on the outside of the affected ear for 10 minutes
Preventions of Ear Infection
- Try not being sick. Teaching children to wash their hands regularly and to cough and sneeze in a tissue or arm crook. Keeping children at home when they are sick.
- Avoid irritants. Stay clear of irritants like smoke. Make your home a nonsmoking zone.
- Try to breastfeed baby. If not, feed your baby in an upright position. Breast milk contains antibodies which protect from ear infections.
- Take vaccine. Doctors can prescribe vaccines. Flu shots and pneumococcal vaccines can prevent ear infections.
- Keep hands clean. Ensure that the hands are washed frequently. Keep the toys, play area and utensils clean and wash them frequently.
- Avoid going to big child care center. When the number of children is less, there are less chances of contracting bacteria or viruses. Also, keep children away from centers when your children are ill.