How To: Treat an Ear Infection

How To: Treat an Ear Infection

This time of year, colds, congestion and ear infections are all too common. Dr. Jerome Thompson, pediatric otolaryngologist with Le Bonheur Children's, answers some of parents' most common questions about ear infections below.

What causes an ear infection?
An ear infection - which produces symptoms like ear pain, drainage and fever - is caused by a virus or bacteria. In many cases of infection, the Eustachian tube (the pathway connecting the middle ear to the back of the nose) fails to balance the pressure between the nose and outside world, creating a vacuum in the middle ear where fluid builds up and bacteria grows.

Are infants more prone to ear infections?
Infants' Eustachian tubes are in line with the nose and not slanted upwards like adults' are, so nasal congestion is more likely to flow into the tubes causing infection.

How do I know if my child has an ear infection?
According to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), symptoms often include the following:

  • More crying than usual, especially when lying down
  • Trouble sleeping or hearing
  • Fever or headache
  • Fluid coming out of the ears

How should an ear infection be treated?
Many ear infections are caused by a virus, rather than bacteria, so antibiotics won't be effective with those cases. According to the AAP, ear infections usually resolve on their own within 10 days or so. A trip to the doctor's office can be worth it though, as doctors can prescribe numbing drops and suggest over-the-counter pain relievers to treat symptoms.

However, if your child has had more than four or five ear infections one year, he or she might need tube placement to help drain the fluid.

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