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Infection of the middle ear (Otitis Media) in children: Causes, Symptoms and Treatment

  • Posted on- Aug 26, 2015
  • 362 Views

Having an ear infection is not something you can ignore, especially if there is pain for a couple of days already. Seeing an ENT (ear, nose and throat) doctor is suggested. If untreated and disregarded, this may lead to total hearing loss.

If there is an inflammation within the middle ear area, it is called “otitis media.” This is why most ENT specialists regard middle ear infections as acute otitis media. Other terms would be “otitis externa” or “swimmer’s ear.”

Otitis Media refers to the presence of fluid or pus within the middle ear area. Symptoms include pain, a somewhat redness of one’s eardrum, and oftentimes, it is accompanied by fever. Hence, there are more chronic types of Otitis Media such as cases where the fluid inside the middle ear has been present for more than 6 weeks already. Another would be instances where the fluid inside the middle ear area is only temporary and is not that infected. This is known as Otitis Media with Effusion.

It is essential for doctors to distinguish the type of Otitis Media infection to come up with the appropriate treatment option. With the different varieties of middle ear infections, not all of them are treatable with antibiotics.

Causes of Otitis Media

There are several reasons why people develop middle ear infections especially children aged 2 to 4 years old. Some of the reasons are as follows:
  • Children Eustachian tubes are more horizontal and shorter as compared to adults. This makes them more susceptible to viruses and bacteria. Hence, these tubes are also less stiff and narrower, making them more vulnerable to blockage.
  • Gland-like structures or Adenoids situated in the upper throat’s back portion, which is close to the Eustachian tubes, are larger in children. This actually interferes with their Eustachian tube’s opening.
  • Cigarette smoke exposure
  • Bottle feeding

Thus, ear infections are more common in boys than in girls. This is doubled if the child’s family has a history of ear infections, and in the winter season when there are a lot of cases of colds and other respiratory tract infections.

Signs and Symptoms of Otitis Media

If suspected with Otitis Media, the signs and symptoms range from extremely mild to relentlessly severe:
  • Ear pain is caused by fluids inside the middle ear area pushing onto the eardrum. In older children, they will just complain of this ear ache. When it comes to younger children, they will act more irritably, and then, cry more.
  • A child has trouble sleeping or eats less. This is since chewing, sucking and lying down causes painful pressure alterations inside the middle ear area. When the pressure of the fluid build-up becomes high enough, this causes the rupturing of the eardrum. This can result to the drainage of fluids from one’s ear. Once the pressure at the back of the eardrum is released, it relieves the pain.
  • Temporary hearing difficulties are caused by fluid build-up inside the middle ear area which blocks the sounds. In this case, a child will increase the volume of the radio or TV, become unresponsive to soft sounds, talk louder and become inattentive in school.
  • Cough or stuffy and runny nose. Since ear infections are associated with infections in the upper respiratory tract, similar signs and symptoms are evident.
  • Other symptoms include nausea, fever, dizziness and vomiting.

When it comes to Otitis Media with Effusion, there are no visible symptoms. However, for some children, such fluids inside their middle ear area can create ear fullness sensation. As compared to Otitis Media, fluids at the back of the eardrum block the sounds, causing temporary and mild hearing loss. Thus, even if an ear infection is not contagious, colds that usually lead to some types of ear issues are communicable.

Treatment of Otitis Media

If you suspect that your child has an ear infection, you need to see an ENT doctor for diagnosis via a physical exam and medical history. In examining the ear, ENT specialists use a small instrument called otoscope. It is like a small flashlight, enabling him to see one’s eardrum. Since there is no regarded best approach when it comes to treating middle ear problems, doctors will only consider certain factors to manage the ear infection of a child. Some of the factors include the severity and type of ear infection, the duration of the infection, the child’s age, the risk factors of the child and if the infection can affect the child’s hearing.

Since there are certain types of ear infections that heal on their own, most ENT doctors will suggest to “wait and see” before they treat the problem with antibiotics. This is also due to some factors pertaining to antibiotic treatment such as its inability to help with a virus infection and its incapability to eliminate the fluids inside the middle ear area. Aside from this, antibiotics can trigger some side effects, especially in children. The most reasonable would be the fact that antibiotics are not good for the liver and it can lead to antibiotic-resistant bacteria that can be hard to treat.

Even if antibiotics are not prescribed to your child, you can still give Ibuprofen or Acetaminophen for the pain, especially if there is fever. Most ENT doctors will also prescribe pain-relieving ear drops, but this is only if there is no indication of a ruptured eardrum. Other conditions that can result to ear aches include teething, hard ear wax and foreign objects inside the ear. It is still best that you see a doctor for proper diagnosis and treatment.