Everything You Need to Know About Ear Infections

By December 16, 2015Blog

Ear infection animationEar infections, or acute otitis media, are extremely common and especially so in children. In fact, beyond the annual wellness exam, earaches and infections are the primary reason that children and infants visit the doctor. Ear infections generally refer to inflammation within the middle ear, the area just behind the eardrum.

What causes ear infections?

Ear infections are typically caused by bacteria but can also be caused by viruses like RSV and influenza. Usually, swelling occurs as a result of a person being sick and this blocks the Eustachian tubes, which connect the middle ear to the nose and throat. These tubes are responsible for bringing fresh air to the middle ear and keeping it dry, as well as allowing fluid secretions from the middle ear to flow out. When they’re blocked, fluids become trapped and become the perfect breeding ground for germs and bacteria. This is further complicated when other germs or bacteria make their way up the Eustachian tube and into the damp, small area of the middle ear. In children or in special populations like Down Syndrome, anatomical differences can make it easier for a middle ear infection to occur.

What are the symptoms of ear infections?

Symptoms of an ear infection include pain, feelings of pressure inside, and temporary hearing loss. For infants and children, you may see them tugging on their ears or notice they are fussier than usual. Many acute ear infections resolve on their own, but it’s important to see a doctor to determine whether you should monitor the infection or if your child needs antibiotics, ear drops, or other remedies. Sometimes the pressure in the middle ear can build up and cause the eardrum to burst, which immediately relieves the pain and usually heals afterward.

Chronic ear infections may require surgical intervention to prevent long-term damage from occurring. You may have heard of children having “tubes in their ears,” which refers to surgically placed tubes meant to help the fluid drain from the middle ear in patients with recurrent ear infections.

The best way to prevent against ear infections is to protect against viruses and bacteria. If you have an infant, breastfeeding and reducing exposure to secondhand smoke can help. If you are bottle-feeding, don’t let your baby lay down or go to sleep with his bottle. Wash hands frequently with soap and water and teach children proper hand hygiene. Make sure your family is up to date on recommended vaccinations and try to limit or eliminate exposure to sick individuals.