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Mommy, My Ear Hurts!

Inside the confusing world of your child’s ear infections.

It seems to strike without cause, often has no visible signs, and your child may not know how to explain that the problem is in his or her ear. And while an ear infection can often cure itself in good time, there is no reason to force your child to suffer with an ear infection when speedy relief is available through appropriate medications.

The next time you believe your child may be dealing with an ear infection, keep this information in mind.

Hard to Prevent

Inside the ear is a thin tube called the Eustachian tube. Connecting the middle ear to the backside of the nose, the Eustachian tube works to get fluid out of the middle ear. However, bacterial or viral infection can cause the tube to swell and fill up with unwanted thick mucous. When this occurs, the Eustachian tube has a difficult time draining fluid out of the middle ear, and bacteria is given a warm, dark, moist environment to grow in. As a result, the building pressure causes pain in the ears, and your child starts to cry.

What makes an ear infection so hard to prevent? It’s so easy to get. A high fever or highly dangerous infection isn’t required to open the door to an ear infection. All it takes is a cold or even allergies. Of course, if you keep your kids away from anyone else who has a cold or flu, you’ll go a long way toward preventing them from suffering a subsequent ear infection. And if they’re allergic to certain substances, preventing contact with the allergen helps as well. In some cases the glands located above the tonsils (adenoids) can swell and cause the Eustachian tubes to be blocked off. Preventing this from occurring may require surgical intervention.

Hard to Catch

Acute ear infections have very obvious signs and symptoms: pain in the ears and fever. Unfortunately, your child may be too young to explain what symptoms he or she is experiencing. If this is the case, your child may suffer with an ear infection for days before you decide the whining, crying, and fussiness warrant a special trip to the pediatrician.

Instead of wondering whether to go to the doctor for days on end, look for other tried and true symptoms of an ear infection. Some children tug at their ear when the infection causes pain. Others may have reduced hearing ability, not eat or sleep well, and become irritable or lethargic.

Once a diagnosis is made, your physician may prescribe an antibiotic for a bacterial ear infection. For viral ear infections, the only medication is over-the-counter pain relievers. In severe cases of recurrent ear infections, your child may require the implantation of tubes in his or her ears. These tiny tubes keep fluid from building up in the ear and ultimately prevent ear infections.

When It Hits Big Ears

While most common in children, earaches aren’t confined to the 18 and under crowd. Unlike earaches that occur during childhood, adult earaches don’t always follow close on the heels of a recent illness. Though the common cold leads to many ear infections during the adult years, an adult ear infection can sprout up without cause.

Whereas viral ear infections during childhood are often waited out, adults who experience viral ear infections may need tubes put in their ears for relief. Thankfully, adult ear infections can often be avoided. By using a simple nasal spray, adults can greatly reduce their risk of an ear infection, while getting some bothersome allergens out of their nasal passages at the same time!

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