Ear infections, also known as otitis media, are an inflammation of the middle ear. The inflammation often begins as a result of the same infection that causes colds, sore throats and respiratory infections. The infection may be either bacterial or viral.
Middle ear infections are particularly common in the first 2 years of a child's life. Young children are most at risk because the tube that connects the middle ear and throat (Eustachian tube) are tiny. As a result germs from the throat and nose can travel to the ear. If the Eustachian tube becomes blocked the fluid that builds up in the middle ear can not drain effectively into the throat.
Before the onset of the ear infection the child typically had had a cold. Frequently the cold does develop with yellow or green mucous from their upper respiratory infection. The child may then present with some of the following symptoms
- Unusual irritability or fussiness
- Difficulty sleeping
- Waking frequently at night
- Waking crying or with screams of pain
- Pulling on one or both ears
- Putting their finger in their ears
- Perforation of the ear drum resulting in drainage of fluid, pus and / or blood
- Offensive smell from the ear (after peroration of ear drum)
- Clumsiness / loss of balance
- Difficulty listening soft sounds
Treatment of Ear Infections Previously the use of antibiotics was frequently prescribed for the treatment of infections. However in most cases this is not required. Recent research has shown that in many cases the infection clears up in the same time with or without antibiotics.
However if your child is very unwell or very young antibiotics may be required to treat the ear infection and it is advised the child be seen by a doctor. If your child is experiencing pain the use of paracetamol may provide relief.
Grommets If a child has recurrent middle ear infections or 'glue-ear' your Ear Nose and Throat (ENT) specialist may recommend grommets are inserted into the eardrum. These tubes help fluid drain from the middle ear.
If your child has had recurrent ear infections it is important that their hearing is monitored. If you notice that your child is not responding to noises in their environment (eg turning the TV up) or is not responding to their name it may indicate they have a hearing injury. This can be done through a referral to an audiologist for a hearing assessment.