You know the signs. Your child keeps pulling at his or her ear in discomfort. There’s pus or fluid draining from the ear. You notice trouble hearing, sleeping and perhaps even balancing. The ear discomfort usually follows or happens at the same time as other symptoms like sore throat, cough, and runny nose. They’re unusually fussy and have even come down with a fever.
These are all possible symptoms of the dreaded ear infection, which keeps many parents up at night as they try to care for their uncomfortable little ones. Have you ever wondered what causes these infections or if they can be prevented? Furthermore, what’s the best way to care for a suffering child? Wonder no more.
What Causes Ear Infections in Children?
Often, ear infections begin as a viral infection like the common cold or other upper respiratory infection. This leads to swelling and fluid building up in the ear. This warm, moist environment is the perfect place and opportunity for bacteria to start to grow. You might notice your child has some cold symptoms for a few days, and just as they start to get better their ear pain starts and they have fevers again. This means your child might have developed an ear infection.
Kids are at a higher risk for developing ear infections than adults are. There are several reasons for this. For one, their immune systems are not always as strong as adults. Their bodies may be more susceptible to viruses, and they may have a harder time fending off the bacteria that lead to ear infections.
Additionally, because some key portions of the ear are much smaller than adults, it can be harder for fluid to drain from the ear. Bacteria thrive in stagnant conditions. Therefore, fluid that is unable to drain from inside the ear has the potential to allow bacteria to grow. This leads to an infection.
Does this higher risk mean that there’s no hope for kids? No.
Ways to Prevent Ear Infections
Get recommended vaccinations. Vaccinating your child is probably the best and most important thing you can do for your child’s immune system and health in general. A couple such vaccines are called the 13-valent pneumococcal conjugate vaccine or PCV13 for short, and Haemophilus Influenza B or HIB for short. These vaccines have been proven to protect against several types of infection-causing bacteria and can help prevent ear infections.
Don’t skip the flu shot. Make sure that your child is vaccinated every year against the flu. Doing so can help prevent multiple unnecessary infections.
Monitor your child’s exposure. Whenever possible, you’ll want to keep your child away from others who are sick. Keep in mind that sick playmates can spread germs especially quick. Additionally, research has shown that frequent exposure to cigarette smoke can increase the number of ear infections a child has. It’s best to maintain a smoke-free environment.
Make hand washing a habit. Clean hands can go a long way in preventing the spread of harmful germs. Not only should you wash frequently, but you should also encourage friends and family who come in contact with your child to do the same.
It’s clear that there are ways to reduce the risk of infection. But can that risk be eliminated altogether? Not really. So for those times when infection is simply unavoidable, you need to know what steps to take.
Treating an Ear Infection
You’ll be happy to know that many such infections resolve themselves within a few days. In the meantime, over the counter medicines can be used to relieve symptoms such as pain and fever.
When there are no signs of improvement within 72 hours after the onset of symptoms, it may be time to pay the doctor a visit. He or she may give advice on how to help your child get better on their own or they may prescribe a medication like an antibiotic to help your child’s body to get rid of the infection.
One important thing to keep in mind with antibiotics is that they must be taken for the exact amount of days ordered by the doctor. This is usually somewhere between 7 and 10 days. While symptoms may seem to go away within a couple of days, the infection may not be completely gone, and might come right back in full force if you were to stop antibiotics before the recommended date.