What is an ear infection?

An ear infection is inflammation of the middle ear (caused by bacteria or a virus) that often occurs when fluids accumulate behind the eardrum, causing pain.

The ear infections often occur after a child has had a previous upper respiratory infection, a cold or sore throat.  The infection leads to a buildup of fluid behind the eardrum.

It’s a common problem for children. Five out of six children will have at least one ear infection by age 3.

The 4 types of ear infections

  1. Acute otitis media (AOM)

– This is the most common type diagnosed. The middle ear is infected, and fluid is trapped behind the eardrum. This causes an earache.

  1. Otitis media with effusion (OME)

– Occurs if fluid remains trapped behind the eardrum after a previous infection. Children with this type of ear infection may not show any symptoms, but I will be able to see the trapped fluid with a instrument called an otoscope. The fluid may persist up to 30 days after an ear infection.

  1. Chronic otitis media with effusion (COME)

– Occurs when fluid remains in the ear for a long time. These infections can affect hearing, and can be potential for subsequent acute ear infections .

  1. Otitis externa (swimmer’s ear)

– Infection of the outer ear canal, which spans from your eardrum to outside your head. It’s usually from water that remains in the ear after swimming, aiding bacteria growth. This is increased in incidence if a child has a lot of ear wax, which traps water in the ear canal after swimming or bathing.

If this can occur before my child can talk, how can I tell if my child has an ear infection?

Watch out for:

– Tugging or pulling at the ears

– Fever (particularly in infants)

– Fluids draining from the ear

– Problems with balance

– Trouble sleeping

How is this treated?

If a virus causes the ear infection, antibiotics will not help. Most ear infections are caused by viruses and will clear up in 3-4  days without antibiotic treatment. Tylenol can help reduce pain. I prefer garlic ear oils placed in the ear to decrease pain and to prevent and treat ear infections.

A bacterial infection is often treated with antibiotics. To protect your child’s long term immunity, antibiotics should not be prescribed until there is clearly a bacterial infection.

Can ear infections be prevented?

You can take the following steps to lower your child’s risk:

Minimize the child’s sugar intake, since pathogens love sugar !

  • Get your child the influenza (flu) vaccine each year
  • Vaccinate your child with the PCV13, which is the prevention for the most common dangerous ear infections.  Children under age 2 should be vaccinated, starting at 2 months of age.
  • Reduce exposure to air pollution and smoking
  • Breastfeed your child for 12 months or more if possible
  • Bottle feed your child in an upright position