The common cold is the most frequent illness in American children, but ear infections are a close second. In fact, the majority of children (around 75%) will suffer an ear infection by the age of 3, and it’s not uncommon for a child to experience multiple ear infections throughout the course of childhood.
To put things in perspective, ear infections account for a whopping 30 million pediatric visits each year. This means that you as a parent will probably take your child to the doctor on ac-count of ear infection, if you haven’t already!
What an ear infection is:
Put simply, ear infection is fluid or pus that is infected with bacteria or a virus, and has built up behind the eardrum. The infected fluid causes the eardrum to bulge and become red, leading to various degrees of pain, temporary hearing loss, and other unpleasant symptoms.
What the symptoms are:
The sooner the infection is properly diagnosed and treated, the sooner your child can get on with a happy life. So if you notice any of the following symptoms in your child, it may be time for a visit to the pediatrician.
• Fluid draining from the ears
• Complaints of pressure in the ears
• Hearing loss
• Troubling sleeping
• Pulling at the ears (in the case of infants)
• Lack of appetite
• Vomiting or diarrhea
• Cold-like symptoms, including fever
• Yellow or green fluid running from nose
• An extremely “fussy” disposition
How ear infection is treated:
Antibiotics are be used to treat ear infection in children of all ages, although most doctors will allow the infection a period of roughly 24 hours to clear up on its own (which often does hap-pen). If the infection persists, antibiotics might be prescribed. This usually clears the infection within a few days, and the doctor will be able confirm as much during a follow-up appointment. It may take some time for the fluid to drain out through the nose, but symptoms usually resolve in a matter of days.
In children younger than 6 months, antibiotics are usually required in order to prevent the infection from spreading.
Your pediatrician may prescribe ear drops and/or common pain medication to help with symptoms. A warm compress on the ear is also sometimes indicated. If ear infections keep coming back, or your child is diagnosed with a chronic condition knows as glue ear, the doctor may prescribe a longer duration of antibiotics. Serious cases may require the surgical placement of ventilation tubes in the eardrum itself. These tubes, called grommets, stop the infected fluid from gathering behind the drum and can prevent long term hearing loss as a result of chronic ear infections.
How ear infection can be prevented:
There is evidence that breastfeeding your baby longer may lead to fewer ear infections. If you bottle-feed your baby, keep him or her in an upright position to avoid irritation of the inner ear.
Aside from this, preventing infections really comes down to overall attention to health: A diet rich in fruits and vegetables, natural immune system boosters like Echinacea (consult your pediatrician), and reduced exposure to environmental toxins like second-hand cigarette smoke. Certain vaccinations may also make your child less vulnerable to ear infection.
In a nutshell, any step you might take to prevent the common cold and keep your child’s immune system strong is likely to reduce his or her probability of ear infection. If infection does occur, rest assured that your pediatrician will be able to diagnose and treat it effectively!
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