There is nothing more heartbreaking for a parent than their child crying out in the middle of the night in pain. When you go to hold them they are hot as a firecracker and pressing on the side of their face. One quick tug to the ear lobe and they let out the tell tale cry of a sweet little kid suffering from an ear infection. If you’ve ever had an ear infection, you know the tremendous pain that they are in and probably can’t help but be empathetic. If you’re anything like me, you start the ibuprofen/acetaminophen cycle until you can call the pediatrician in the morning and you hold your little love tight until they fall asleep.
Ear infections are the worst. And they are a very common ailment in children. Three of my four kids had chronic ear infections as infants and all had their first set of tubes before their first birthdays. They often start when our children are babies and can progress for years and years.
What Causes Ear Infections?
The Mayo Clinic explains that ear infections occur when the eustachian tube becomes clogged with fluid. Normally, these tubes regulate air pressure in the middle ear, drain fluid from the ear, and refresh air in the ear. Children’s eustachian tubes are more narrow and horizontal than adults, making it easy for them to become clogged. When the eustachian tube is blocked, it causes fluid to build up in the middle ear. This can be caused by a variety of sources, including allergies, colds, sinus infections, excess mucus, exposure to cigarette smoke or infected or swollen adenoids.
Symptoms of An Ear Infection
There are several signs that your child may have an ear infection. They may pull or tug at the ear or have a difficult time sleeping. In babies, they may cry more than usual or be increasingly fussy. Sometimes it can be difficult to hear or your child may experience a loss of balance. There may also be a headache or increased pain in the ear when sleeping. An ear infection may also be accompanied by a fever, often 100 F or more. A child with an ear infection may also have no interest in eating or drinking. You may notice fluid or pus draining from the ear.
What To Do For An Ear Infection At Home
Many parents’ first stop is an over-the-counter pain reliever like acetaminophen or ibuprofen. But there are also lots of ways that you can ease pain with homeopathic solutions like using garlic oil or practicing acupuncture to antibiotics. But there are other at-home remedies that you can try as well. Medicinenet.com offers several suggestions for at-home treatment. These include:
Warm oil, such as vegetable or olive oil gently dripped in the ear
Alternating warm and cold compresses on the ear
Tea Tree, garlic oil, and other naturopathic drops
Sleeping with the painful side up
Others may be inclined to take a more traditional route and contact the pediatrician. Either way, contact your pediatrician before starting any ear infection treatments, including alternative treatments.
When To Visit Your Pediatrician
According to Healthline, ear infections often start with mild pain and may not necessarily require a visit to the pediatrician’s office. But if your child is getting up in the middle of the night and has a fever, it’s probably a good idea to give them a call. When you see your pediatrician, they will be looking for the following things: redness, air bubbles or pus-like fluid in the middle ear, fluid draining from the middle ear, a perforation in the eardrum, or a bulging or collapsed eardrum.
And while many ear infections can be cleared up pretty quickly and easily, others require more intense treatment like ear tubes.
If Ear Infections Are Chronic, They May Require Tubes
Children’s Hospital at Vanderbilt says that myringotomy, or ear tube surgery, is a very common surgery with more than 1 million procedures being done each year. Kidshealth.org outlines that the surgery is simple, taking only 10 to 15 minutes to perform. Your child will be put under general anesthesia, a small hole will be made in the eardrum, and a tiny tube will be inserted. These tubes will help the air flow in the eardrum and will also prevent fluid from backing up. Ear tubes do not usually need to be removed; they often come out on their own. If your child has chronic ear infections that are not easily cleared by antibiotics or if they are experiencing hearing loss, your pediatrician may recommend ear tube surgery. According to the Mayo Clinic, “An ear tube creates an airway that ventilates the middle ear and prevents the accumulation of fluids behind the eardrum.” Many children will find great relief when their ear tubes are in.
When It Comes To Ear Infections, Not All Info Is Good Info
As much great information as there is out there about ear infections and how to effectively treat them, there is also a ton of misinformation, as outlined by Cook Children’s Hospital in Fort Worth. First, they explain that not all earaches are ear infections. Pain could be caused by injury or sleep position. You may not always have a fever when you have an ear infection. While there are no exact numbers of how many infections cause fever, researchers say that it is likely 1 to 2 out of 3. Despite what you may have heard, being under water or in the wind will not cause ear infections; the infection begins behind the eardrum wall, which is sealed off from the elements. Not every ear infection requires an antibiotic; as a matter of fact, many will heal on their own. And despite claims, Amoxicillin is a perfectly safe and effective medication to use to treat ear infections.
While uncomfortable and sometimes scary, ear infections are a pretty normal part of growing up. Babies experience them frequently, but they can certainly continue into childhood and adolescence. Often easily cured, there can be serious side effects of ear infections. They include hearing loss, language and speech delays, mastoiditis, meningitis or a ruptured eardrum. If any of these occur, it is important to see a physician.
Any kid who has had an ear infection will tell you it is no fun. Next to an antibiotic, the best medicine is lots of special treatment and snuggles. There is no cure better than that.
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