Learn How To Combat Ear Infections
Find out the signs and symptoms of ear infections, current treatments and when to consider ear tubes.
According to the website WebMD.com, except for wellness baby visits, ear infections are the most common reason for trips to the pediatrician, accounting for approximately 30 million doctor visits a year in the United States.
In addition, about half of the antibiotic prescriptions written for children are written for ear infections. Indeed, if you are a parent of a young child, you are likely familiar with ear checks.
“Most of the time when someone refers to an ear infections, they are referring to ‘acute otitis media,’ meaning that there has been a rapid onset of inflammation in the middle ear because of a bacterial infection,” said Farrel Buchinsky, MD, an otolaryngologist at Allegheny General Hospital . “The middle ear describes the small hollow in the temporal bone deep to the ear drum.”
A pediatrician can diagnose an ear infection by looking into the ear with an otoscope—a special flashlight used for looking in the ear—and seeing fluid in the middle ear, according to Dr. Buchinsky. The ear drum, also known as the tympanic membrane, may be red and actually bulging outward.
WebMD.com suggests that the most common cause for an ear infection is an upper respiratory viral infection, such as a cold or flu, though allergies, smoke, fumes and environmental toxins can have the same effect.
Parents of young children are likely all too familiar with the signs and symptoms of an ear infection, as well, which can include ear pain or ear drainage or fever, Dr. Buchinsky explained.
And though parents would do anything to help their child to feel better immediately, the ear infection probably needs time to run its course.
“The best course of treatment for an ear infection is time and also may include ibuprofen, acetaminophen for pain, anesthetic ear drops or antibiotics, with the prescription either filled immediately or two to three days later if the child is still not well,” Dr. Buchinsky said.
If your child has experienced his share of ear infections, and you begin feeling that you are spending more time at the pediatrician’s office than at home, it may be time to have a discussion with the doctor about ear tubes.
“We look for a child to have about three to four ear infections in the preceding six months before considering tubes,” Dr. Buchinsky said. “Ear tubes work by allowing for good aeration of the middle ear. Ideally, aeration should be accomplished by the eustachian tubes in the ears, but they often do not perform the job well, and so with ear tubes, we have created a bypass.”
But just because a child has ear tubes does not mean they will not still suffer from ear infections, Dr. Buchinsky explained, but they will get fewer than before and less severe. Some may even experience such an improvement, that they will have no more.
According to Dr. Buchinsky, the ear tubes should stay in place for a period of six to 24 months, though 13 months is the mean.
Daycare attendance can increase the risk that a child will require ear tubes, as does hereditable factors, though it is not known which, Dr. Buchinsky said.
“The main way parents can aid in the prevention of ear tubes is by not smoking. Removal from daycare also will help, but in many cases, that is easier said than done," he said.
Do you want to learn more about ear tubes, or do you suspect your child may require treatment with tubes? Find out more about how to treat ear infections with antibiotics and get the facts about ear tubes at a program, “Ear Infections: What are we being told?” from 10:30 to 11:30 a.m. on Wednesday, Oct. 12, at the West Penn Allegheny Health System Outpatient Care Center in Peters Township . For more information, call 1-877-284-2000.