Ear Infections: Identification, Treatment & Prevention
It is not uncommon when one illness leads to another, such as the case with many ear infections. Many begin due to bacteria or a virus, such as having a cold, the flu, or even allergies. While ear infections are most common in children, it is possible for adults to get them, too. All it takes is for some of the bacteria or virus to cause inflammation and fluid buildup in the usually air-filled space behind the eardrum.
Symptoms and Identification of an Ear Infection
For adults, ear infections are easily identified by ear pain, fluid draining from the ear, and diminished hearing. Children, on the other hand, may have other symptoms, which may require parents paying particular attention if they are too young to verbalize discomfort. Typically, you will notice them tugging on the ear, having difficulty sleeping, crying or acting irritable more than usual, exhibiting difficulty hearing or responding to sound, showing a loss of balance, running a temperature of 100 F or higher, having drainage from the ear, or a loss of appetite.
Contact your child’s doctor if:
- Symptoms Last for more than a day
- Symptoms are present in a child 6 months of age or younger
- The ear pain is severe
- An infant or toddler is sleepless or irritable after having a cold or upper respiratory infection
- You observe fluid, pus, or bloody discharge from the ear
As an adult, if you experience any ear pain or discharge from the ear, visit your doctor as soon as possible.
Treatment for Ear Infections
In some cases, ear infections will actually clear up on their own. However, if the infection occurs in infants, seems somewhat severe, or is caused by bacteria in particular, using antibiotics for treatment will more than likely be necessary. It’s important to receive treatment and medical attention for any ear infection as it could lead to long-term issues and complications including hearing problems, speech or developmental delays, spread of infection, and even tearing of the eardrum.
How to Prevent Ear Infections
While it may not be possible to prevent all ear infections, there are ways you can help fight against them.
- Prevent the spread of common colds and other illnesses. Wash hands frequently and thoroughly, and do not share eating utensils or drinks. When coughing or sneezing, do so in the crook of the arm rather than the hands (or not covering at all).
- Avoid smoking and secondhand smoke. Smoking lowers the body’s immune response, making it more difficult to fight off infections. Secondhand smoke can also be very damaging to children’s sensitive airways.
- When feeding a baby, keep him in an upright position. Allowing a baby to drink from a bottle while laying down allows fluid to easily get in the Eustachian tubes and middle ear, leading to infection.
- Ensure your children are up-to-date on vaccinations. Getting the flu shot every year and being protected against pneumococcal or other bacterial infections may help prevent the risk of ear infection.
For those prone to frequent ear infections, a procedure to surgically insert ear tubes may be recommended. These help create an airway to ventilate the middle ear, preventing the accumulation of fluid buildup behind the eardrum.
If you think you or your child may have an ear infection, don’t wait to see if it will feel better. Visit one of our convenient locations today.