Ear Infections: What Parents Need to Know
Runny noses, coughs, and sneezes are all too familiar this time of year. Then your child starts tugging their ear and crying. Their cues tell you they may have an ear infection. You call the pediatrician and ask if your child should come in for antibiotics. Their answer may surprise you. Here’s why.
What may seem like an ear infection could very well be merely fluid behind the ear (otitis media with effusion). The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends watchful waiting over immediate treatment with antibiotics. Why? Because middle ear fluid typically disappears on its own, usually in a few months. Assuming symptoms don’t worsen, they will have your child return in a few months to see if the fluid is gone.
A classic ear infection (acute otitis media) is entirely different. It shows up quickly and causes significant pain. It is also often accompanied by a fever, runny nose, and sometimes ear drainage. Sounds pretty miserable, huh? It is, however, eighty percent of all ear infections clear on their own. Bacterial ear infections can be treated with antibiotics. However, many cases are caused by viruses, which cannot and must just run their course. If your child is otherwise healthy, the pediatrician may prescribe ibuprofen or acetaminophen to help control their pain and an antibiotic that is only to be filled if their symptoms do not improve within 48-72 hours.
More About Ear Infections
Ear infections are widespread with over two million cases diagnosed annually. They are the second most commonly diagnosed childhood illness in the United States, and an average of three out of four children will have had an ear infection by the time they are three years of age. They most commonly occur in children six months to two years of age, an essential time for development of the auditory and visual system. Children usually outgrow ear infections with their occurrence becoming less frequent around seven years of age.
Why do ear infections occur?
Ear infections are common in children because their eustachian tubes are more narrow and short, as well as less rigid compared to adults. This allows bacteria to travel from the nose and throat to the middle ear much faster and also makes it more challenging to clear fluid buildup.
When should I consider ear tube surgery?
Chronic ear infections can be defined as multiple ear infections that do not get better easily. If your child has chronic ear infections or is showing signs of a speech delay or hearing loss, they may be referred to an ENT (Ear Nose Throat) specialist for an evaluation for ear tube surgery. Ear tube surgery is a simple, outpatient procedure where small tubes are placed in the eardrums to allow for ventilation and drainage.
Your child’s health is a top priority for us. If they are experiencing symptoms of an ear infection, call us today at (910) 486-5437 to find out if they should come in for an evaluation.