What is an ear infection?
An ear infection, also
called otitis media, is
inflammation or infection of the middle ear. Otitis
media often occurs along with a cold or other
upper respiratory infections. Almost all children have
at least one ear infection before age 7.
Ear infections are most
common in young children because they have shorter, more horizontal
eustachian tubes, which are more easily blocked than
those of older children and adults. When the eustachian tube is blocked, fluid
builds up, creating a breeding ground for bacteria or viruses.
develops as the body tries to fight the infection. More fluid collects and
pushes against the eardrum, causing pain and sometimes a loss of hearing. Fever
lasts about 1 to 2 days. And pain and crying usually last for 3 to 4 hours.
After that, most children have some pain on and off for up to 4 days. Young
children may have pain that comes and goes for up to 9 days.
What causes ear infections?
Most ear infections
are caused by bacteria that multiply in the fluid built up behind the eardrum.
But viruses also can lead to ear infections. The respiratory syncytial virus
(RSV) is a leading cause, followed by
influenza (flu) viruses. That's why
antibiotics do not always work for ear infections,
because they can kill bacteria but not viruses.
How do I know if my child has an ear infection?
After a couple of bouts, most parents can recognize an ear infection when their
child starts running a fever and tugging at his or her ears just after getting
over a cold. But the only way to know for sure that an ear infection is causing
these symptoms is a visit to your doctor. An exam with a
pneumatic otoscope will tell you for certain.
If an ear infection is present, the eardrum will bulge and look red or
yellow. Also, the eardrum will not move freely when slight air pressure is
applied with the pneumatic otoscope.
Are there special circumstances in which children should take antibiotics for ear infections instead of waiting?
situations where antibiotics should be given without waiting. These situations
- Children who have serious chronic
conditions, such as heart disease or cystic fibrosis.
- Children who
are seriously ill with severe pain.
- Children who have a high
- Children who are dehydrated.
- Children younger
than 2 years of age, who are sometimes given antibiotics right away because
they may be at risk for other illnesses.
For more information, see the topic