Treating Ear Infections In Children
An ear infection is a condition that, when mild, parents can manage easily at home. For more severe infections, or if your child is under two years of age, you may need to visit your GP for prescription medication to treat the infection.
When To Visit Your Doctor
- Your baby is younger than six (6) months and has symptoms of an ear infection.
- Your child has a temperature of 38 C or higher and shows symptoms of an ear infection, inconsolable crying, severe pain, or other symptoms of concern.
- You see ear drainage or fluid discharge.
- The ear looks like it is sticking out abnormally to the other ear.
- There is swelling in front of the ear.
Key Facts About Ear Infection In Children
- Ear infections are common, especially in children.
- They often do not require antibiotics as they are viral infections
- Middle ear infections are called otitis media and usually go away by themselves without antibiotics.
- Outer ear infections are called otitis externa and are often treated with antibiotic drops.
- See your doctor if your child has ear pain or discharge, reduced hearing, fever, or vomiting.
- Go to your nearest emergency department if there is pain, swelling or redness in the bony area behind the ear.
What Does An Ear Infection Feel Like
Symptoms will vary depending on which part of your ear is infected and can include:
- Internal and external ear pain
- Itchiness deep within the ear
- Headache with high temperature over 38 C
- Having trouble hearing, or everything is muted and sounds like you are hearing through cotton wool
- Ears feel plugged or full, sometimes with ringing or buzzing
- Dizziness and losing your sense of balance
- Nausea or vomiting
- Fluid of any kind leaking from your ear
- Redness or swelling of your ear
Babies And Small Children Might Also:
- Pull at, tug on, or rub their ear excessively
- Have a high temperature at or above 38°C
- Show obvious redness around the ear
- Have a noticeably warm or hot ear compared to the opposite ear
- Be uncharacteristically restless, whingy, or irritable
- Not respond to sounds and noise that would normally attract their attention
How Are Ear Infections Treated
Middle Ear Infections
Middle ear infections are usually resolved by the immune system on their own within a week and do not require a doctor’s assessment. Your child may need pain relief medicine like paracetamol or ibuprofen. In some cases, something stronger with a sedative component that requires a script from your doctor may be required. This treatment can be kept in your First Aid kit until the expiry date for future cases where pain relief is required and the situation is applicable.
Antibiotics are generally not recommended for middle ear infections unless there are signs that your child is unwell and presents with a fever or vomiting.
Take your child to the doctor to check their ears if they do not show any improvement after two days of home First Aid treatment. Take them immediately if they are in obvious pain and distress and are crying and screaming inconsolably.
Children under two (2), Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander children, and children with certain medical conditions are prone to have complications from ear infections and are more commonly prescribed antibiotics.
Outer Ear Infections
Outer ear infections are generally treated with antibiotic ear drops. The drops may also contain other medicines, such as steroids. You should lie the child down with the infected ear facing upwards while the drops are administered. Keep them lying down for a few minutes, allowing the drops to stay in the ear to be absorbed.
It’s important to keep your child out of the swimming pool and prevent them from submerging their ears in the bath for a week while the infection heals.
Why Don’t Doctors Give Antibiotics For Middle Ear Infections Just In Case
Unless the child’s immune system has been compromised, the infection will be killed off naturally after about four days. Studies suggest that children who take antibiotics have ear pain for only 12 hours less than children who don’t take antibiotics.
If antibiotics are prescribed, some children will have side effects. Using antibiotics can also cause the bacteria strain to become resistant, meaning that the antibiotics might not work in future. The use of antibiotics also kills off all the good bacteria the body produces and needs to keep the immune system healthy.
For these reasons, antibiotics are not generally recommended for middle ear infections unless your child is at risk of developing complications or has a repeat history under investigation.
Can An Ear Infection Cause Any Other Problems
Ruptured Ear Drum
Sometimes middle ear infections have pressure from fluid building up in the middle ear, which can cause the eardrum to tear. This is known as a ruptured or burst eardrum. If this happens to your child, you may see a yellow discharge coming from the ear, and you may notice that their pain suddenly lessens.
The eardrum usually heals by itself. You should see your doctor after six weeks to make sure the tear has healed. It is important not to get your ear wet while the eardrum is healing.
For some children, fluid remains in the middle ear after an infection. This is called glue ear. The fluid may affect your child’s hearing and language development.
The fluid usually goes away by itself within three months. If it doesn’t, your child may need grommets. These are small plastic tubes surgically placed in the eardrum to allow fluid to drain out of the middle ear. This surgery will be done by an ear, nose, and throat (ENT) specialist.
What Can I Do To Prevent Ear Infections
Middle ear infections are often a result of a virus that causes the common cold. While hard to prevent contracting colds, good hygiene practices can help lower your chances of catching one.
If your child has persistent or reoccurring ear infections, they may need grommets put in their ears to prevent recurring infections.
Reduce The Risk Of An Outer Ear Infection
- Ensure that your child drains excess water and dries their ears after swimming.
- Use ear plugs for swimming if the child is prone to ear infections.
- Do not put anything into their ear, not even a cotton bud, even if their ear feels blocked.
- If in doubt, take them to the GP, who will check their ear canals to ensure no insects have crawled in at any point at night.
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