An ear infection occurs when fluid becomes trapped in the middle ear following a viral or bacterial infection. This painful affliction is most common in children, but can affect people of all ages. Ear infections can be either acute (of short duration) or chronic (persisting or reoccurring frequently).
Treatment & Prevention
As frequent as ear infections may be, they are a common childhood malady given that the Eustachian tubes in children are smaller and more prone to blockages. Many times, doctors will advise taking a wait and see approach for those experiencing mild ear pain, to allow the infection to run its course naturally. Pain can be managed with a warm, moist compress held against the ear, and over-the-counter pain medications and eardrops. Avoid giving aspirin to children and teenagers, as it has been linked with Reye’s syndrome, a potentially fatal condition that causes swelling of the brain and liver.
Treatment with antibiotics is usually recommended for ear infections caused by bacteria. It is important to continue the full course of treatment as directed, even if symptoms clear up, in order to prevent a recurring infection.
Hronic ear infections may require a surgical solution such as ear tubes. These are implanted in the middle ear to provide ventilation and drainage of fluids. They remain in place for six months to a year, on average. Some children benefit from surgery to remove the tonsils or adenoids, particularly in cases where they are oversized.
What Causes an Ear Infection?
The majority of ear infections are viral or bacterial in nature, usually occurring after a cold or upper respiratory infection. These conditions cause swelling of the Eustachian tube, a small canal that connects the middle ear to the nostrils and provides an outlet for fluid drainage, trapping germs and fluid in the middle ear and leading to infection. The result is a painful earache that may be accompanied by fluid drainage from the affected ear and a loss of hearing. Children may display an increase in crying and irritability, and suffer from fever, headache, loss of appetite, dizziness, and difficulty sleeping.