Middle ear infections are a very common problem faced by many children. Even infants below the age of two are privy to this problem. Infections in the ear are caused by germs and viruses that enter the body and grow while spreading the infection and affecting normal functioning of the body. Similarly, germs can enter the ears directly. These infections are named according to their location within the ear which is divided into three main sections; inner, middle and outer ear.
Outer ear infections are known as “swimmer’s ear”. When the inner part of the ear becomes infected, it’s called a middle ear infection. Germs infecting the middle ear fill that area with a yellow, gooey liquid called pus which it uses to fight the infection. The middle part of the ear, located at the back of your eardrum, is shaped like a tiny air pocket. When pus begins to fill in this area, your ear feels like a giant balloon on the verge of popping which can be extremely painful.
The throat is connected to the middle portion of both ears through two separate channels known as the eustachian tubes. Their job is to allow the free movement of air in and out of the middle ear. Infants below the age of three have smaller, less developed tubes which make them less capable of keeping germs completely out of their middle ears. However, as children grow and develop, so do their tubes which become more capable of keeping infectious germs outside the ear canal, but they can still face other problems. Swelling from a cold, allergies, or a sinus infection can also keep the tubes from opening.
Usually children who have allergic problems and catch colds frequently are more prone to develop ear infections. When a child
catches a cold one or both Eustachian tubes can become obstructed which will allow germs to enter the middle ear. Once the germs gain
entry they can multiply rapidly resulting in a middle ear infection.
Your child will most likely get a fever along with the ear pain. Some even find it difficult to hear because of the blockage. A middle ear infection is not contagious, but the cold caught from others can eventually result in an ear infection. The sooner the doctor is contacted, the better for the child and the rest of the family members.
The doctor will check the ear with the help of an otoscope. It is a special flashlight which makes the eardrum visible. The eardrum is a thin membrane separating the outer ear from the middle ear. The otoscope can also be used to blow a puff of air into the ear. This determines whether the ear drum is functioning normally and is moving in a healthy way or not. Because of the puss formation due to the infection, the fluid will press against the ear drum and may even cause it to bulge. Also, the eardrum can turn red because of the infection.
Your doctor will probably prescribe a pain reliever to be taken for the next two or three days. Antibiotics will be prescribed if the infection is caused by bacteria, which should cure any infection within a couple of days. Should your doctor recommend an antibiotic, the cycle must be completed as prescribed by the doctor to minimize any possibility of re-infection. Few children who get ear infections frequently will have to undergo additional tests such as tympanograms or audiograms.
Children can take some positive steps to avoid ear infections. They must wash their hands regularly. They must keep away from people who are infected with cold and flu. If they do come near, or in contact with an infected person, they should wash their hands and should not touch their eyes or nose. Parents who smoke, should refrain from smoking near their children as tobacco smoke can be responsible for the malfunctioning of the eustachian tube.