Older children are good at telling you when something hurts and where it hurts. But when you have young children who are pre-verbal or have limited vocabularies, deciphering whether they have an illness or are just being cranky can be complicated.
Ear infections afflict children so often that approximately five out of every six kids gets at least one ear infection before their third birthday.
An ear infection in the middle ear — otherwise known as otitis media — is the most common ailment that prompts parents to bring a child to a pediatrician or to pediatric ear, nose and throat (ENT) doctors.
Children are susceptible to ear infections because the eustachian tubes that are responsible for draining mucus and other fluids out of the ear have not yet finished developing. With no place to go, bacteria-infused fluids get “stuck” in the middle ear, which may lead to discomfort and even infection.
If your child can’t tell you what’s troubling him, how can you tell if she has fluid build-up or an ear infection?
Nonverbal Clues Alert You to Distress
Looking for behavioral cues help you determine what is going on. Some cues alert you to a feeling of malaise such as when your child:
- Acts clingy or needy
- Is extra cranky or fussy
- Has trouble sleeping
- Loses appetite
- Vomits or has diarrhea
Signs that are more specific to an ear infection include:
- Tugging, pulling or rubbing the ear
- Having a fever
- Fluid, blood or pus draining from the ear
- Difficulty hearing
- Not responding to your voice or commands
- Stumbling, acting dizzy or having balance problems
If your child has the symptoms of an earache or an ear infection, you should schedule an appointment with a pediatric ENT specialist in Birmingham. Some earaches have no signs or symptoms at all.
How Is an Earache Diagnosed?
When you bring your child to your pediatric ENT, your doctor first conducts a physical examination. Your pediatric ENT examines your child’s ear canals with an otoscope to check the color of the eardrum. Healthy eardrums are light pink or gray and transparent. Inflamed eardrums are red and swollen. Your child could also receive a test known as tympanometry, which uses pressure to test whether the middle ear is working properly or not.
How Is Ear Pain Treated?
Earaches are treated differently depending on your child’s age, whether there is an infection, the severity of the infection and whether the cause is viral or bacterial. Most ear infections resolve on their own within hours or a few days. However, your pediatric ENT administers antibiotics to infants with ear infections who are under 6 months old if the infection is caused by bacteria. Viral infections do not respond to antibiotics.
Children between the ages of 6 months and 2 years who have severe symptoms will also be given antibiotics. If their symptoms are mild to moderate, your pediatric ENT recommends a wait-and-see approach. The same approach is taken for children over age 2 as long as the symptoms don’t worsen.
If your child is in pain, your pediatric ENT may recommend over-the-counter painkillers such as ibuprofen to manage discomfort. A hot water bottle wrapped in a towel and pressed against the ear may also make your child feel more comfortable.
Treating Chronic Otitis Media
Some children have chronic ear infections, which are defined as three ear infections within six months or four ear infections within a year. Because the ear helps us maintain our balance as well as hear, chronic ear infections can lead to hearing loss and problems walking.
Children with chronic earaches can be treated with a myringotomy tube (ear tube), that allows built-up fluid to drain from the ear. Implanting an ear tube is a simple and quick procedure that is done in the pediatric ENT’s office. Most tubes fall out by themselves after about a year to a year and a half. Learn more about treatment options at WebMD.com.
How Can I Prevent My Child’s Ear Pain?
At the moment, no prevention protocols exist for ear infections because they may have many different causes. To reduce your child’s risk for an pain or infections in the ears:
- Have them wash their hands frequently
- Breastfeed infants to strengthen their immune systems
- Babies should sit upright when being bottle fed with the caretaker holding the bottle
- Wean babies from bottles and pacifiers by age 1
- Keep babies and children away from smoke
Vaccines that prevent ear infections are currently in development.
Call Your Pediatric ENT in Birmingham
If your child has an earache or suffers from chronic ear pain or infections, call the specialists at Pediatric ENT Associates in Birmingham, Alabama. You can also contact us online.