Next to the common cold, an ear infection is a very common illness. Most children will have one by the age of 3, and they can be hereditary (run in families). If they recur often and are not treated, they can lead to hearing issues and other problems. Fortunately, two recent vaccines, Prevnar and Hib, have dramatically reduced the incidence of ear infections.
There are two types of ear infections
Generally, there are two main types of ear infections: otitis externa (an ear infection of the ear canal) and otitis media (an inner ear infection behind the eardrum).
Otitis externa (commonly called swimmer’s ear)
Otitis externa is usually seen in the warmer months and is associated with swimming. Minor trauma to the ear canal with a Q-tip or finger can also start the infection process.
The way to tell if your child has this type of ear infection is that he/she will have pain when the outside of the ear is touched or pulled. By examining your child, your pediatrician will be able to tell the difference between this and a middle ear infection.
Generally for otitis externa, ear drops are prescribed. Occasionally for more severe cases, an oral antibiotic is added. Keeping your child’s ear dry for a period of time is advantageous, and a drop or two of rubbing alcohol or vinegar after swimming can sometimes prevent this infection.
Otitis media (middle ear infection)
Otitis media or middle ear infection is more common and especially affects younger children. It can be preceded by a cold and cough, may be accompanied by a fever, and it’s usually worst when the child lies down to sleep. These infections generally occur in children between the ages of 3 months and 3 years, and are more common in boys, in bottle-fed babies, and in houses with tobacco smoke.
If you think your child may have an ear infection, it is important to see one of our Westchester Health Pediatrics pediatricians
If the middle ear is found to be infected, your child’s doctor may prescribe an antibiotic and other pain medicine. Usually the child is much improved within 48 hours after starting the medicines. If not, call your pediatrician back and alert him/her about your child’s condition.
Recurring ear infections can lead to hearing and/or language issues
Once your child has had an ear infection, I recommend having his/her ears re-checked a few days after finishing the antibiotic to make sure the infection has cleared. Sometimes the infection is gone but some sterile fluid remains. This can be normal for a few weeks but should be monitored by your pediatrician.
If fluid remains in the ear or if your child tends to have multiple ear infections, your pediatrician may want to do a hearing test or refer your child to an Ear, Nose and Throat (ENT) specialist.
Furthermore, any child with language delay, recurrent ear infections or chronic fluid should have a hearing test because hearing issues can affect your child’s speech. Rarely, a child with recurrent infections or chronic ear fluid require will ear tubes, a procedure performed by an ENT doctor.
Happily, with proper care and treatment, ear infections can almost always be managed successfully.
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