Middle ear infections are a common ailment in young children, and they can be frustrating for parents, especially when ear infections seem to recur every few months, or even every few weeks. If your child seems to be plagued with ear infections, learning the causes and possible preventions can help you as you struggle through the sickness season.
What causes ear infections?
Ear infections occur when the eustachian tubes in the ears, which help drain secretions and regulate pressure in the ears, become blocked or inflamed. Typically, ear infections follow other types of infections, like a cold or the flu, that make the nasal passages and the connecting ear tubes more vulnerable to infection. A viral or bacterial infection causes swelling in the middle ear, which leads to pain, as the ear cannot drain properly.
Your child is more susceptible to ear infections because the eustachian tubes are narrower and they are more horizontal, instead of angled, which makes fluid build up and bacterial incubation more possible. Children also have larger adenoids. Adenoids become inflamed during a cold, blocking the eustachian tubes and making infection of the ear more likely as well.
What can you do to prevent ear infections?
The best prevention is to ensure that your child develops a healthy immune system to fight off cold or the flu more easily. If your child is old enough for the seasonal flu shot, be sure to get it. Feed your child a diet rich in fruits and vegetables. If possible, reduce sugar intake, as sugar decreases the effectiveness of the immune system. Other prevention methods include:
- Hand washing. Encourage your child to wash their hands frequently, especially after using the bathroom and before eating meals.
- Breastfeeding. Babies and toddlers who are breastfeeding are less likely to develop ear infections.
- Using an upright position during bottle feeding. This helps the eustachian tubes to drain more easily while your child is drinking. You should refrain from giving your child a bottle while they are lying down; this includes putting your baby to bed with a bottle to drink.
What are some precautions to take when your child has an ear infection?
Ear infections generally are not very serious if they are caused by other sickness, like colds. However, they can sometimes cause further problems or indicate that something else is wrong. Here are some precautions to take to make sure your child does not get worse once the infection sets in:
- Refrain from flying. The change in pressure is hard for the ear to regulate during infection, as there is a pressure build-up in the middle ear already. The pressure of taking off and landing will be extremely painful and cause damage to the eardrum.
- Take the full course of antibiotics prescribed. For bacterial infection, doctors will give a course of antibiotics to prevent the infection from spreading. Your child will start feel better in just a day or two, but you must stay with the full course of medication. If not taken for the right amount of time, not all the bacteria are killed. They can come back stronger, making the next infection more difficult to beat.
- Be careful if your child spends a lot of time in the swimming pool. The pressure of the water can be hard on an infected ear. Swimmer's ear, an infection of the outer ear, can also occur, increasing the tendency for middle ear infections to be even more painful and difficult to treat.
For more information about the treatment and symptoms of ear infections in children, contact a primary care physician or health care provider in your area.