Introduction to Ear Infections
Ear infections (otis media) occur in a part of your ear called the middle ear.
What are Ear Infections?
Ear infections (otis media) occur in a part of your ear called the middle ear. These infections are most common in children (75% of cases) although anyone can develop them. Otis media often passes within a few days and is not severe so there is not usually a reason to see your GP. If the condition doesn’t pass after 4 days, your child has as underlying health condition such as cystic fibrosis, congenital heart disease or the infection gets much worse with fluid or pus coming out the ear, then you should go and see your GP. The infection cannot be prevented but you can reduce the risk of you or your child getting infected. Simple things such as ensuring routine vaccines are up to date, avoiding passive smoking, not giving you child a dummy after 6-12 months and breastfeeding your child if possible will reduce the risk of developing the condition.
What causes Ear Infections?
Otis media is caused by a bacterial or viral infection spreading to the ear. This often occurs after a cold and mucous has built up in a tube connecting the ear and nose (Eustachian tube). Blockage of the tube stops mucous and debris draining out the ear and so it is easy for infection to occur. Children are more likely to get otis media because their Eustachian tube is smaller than adults and so blocked more easily.
Cleft palate and Down’s syndrome increases your risk of developing a middle ear infection.
What are the symptoms of Ear Infections?
Signs and symptoms in young children include: Frequent touching/rubbing of the ear, high temperature, irritability and restlessness at night and a lack of response to quiet sounds.
Older children and adults may experience ear ache, feel sick and experience slight hearing loss. These symptoms should pass within a few days.
How are Ear Infections treated?
Usually, middle ear infections will be resolved without any medication within a few days. Painkillers such as paracetamol can be taken to relieve any pain or high temperature but note that aspirin shouldn’t be given to children under 16. Most infections are caused by viruses and so antibiotics won’t help. Even if there is a bacterial cause, antibiotics aren’t normally prescribed due to the risk of bacteria becoming resistant to the medication.
The GP should be seen if your child has cystic fibrosis or congenital heart disease, pus or fluid is coming out their ear of if there has been no improvement in the condition after 4 days. In these situations, antibiotics may be considered as this is more serious. The typical antibiotic therapy is amoxicillin which is given in liquid form to children. Children with penicillin allergies are given erythromycin.
For children with reoccurring infection, tiny tubes (grommets) can be inserted into the ear to help drain fluid and reduce infection. This is a procedure carried out under general anaesthetic so the child is no in any pain and should be able to go home the next day.