While earaches are most common in young children, these infections can affect people of all ages. If you or a loved one is prone to ear infections, then it is helpful to learn more about why these problems happen and what you can do to prevent ear infections.
What Causes Ear Infections?
Usually, the infection occurs in your middle ear, which is the space behind the eardrum that is filled with air. This area has small bones that vibrate, picking up sound waves to help you hear. There are tubes that connect the middle ear to the throat, known as the “Eustachian tubes.” Sometimes the tubes trap fluid and become blocked, creating the perfect environment for the breeding of infection-causing viruses or bacteria.
In severe situations, the fluid in the middle ear builds to the point where the pressure causes the eardrum to rupture. As a result, the fluid drains and the pain will go down. The rupturing of the eardrum means that there is a hole in the eardrum, which will heal by itself in a short time.
Ear infections are most common after someone has a head cold, throat infection, or allergy symptoms. For example, the signs of an ear infection typically begin between two and seven days after a head cold. An upper respiratory infection causes swelling in the nasal passages, congestion, and fluid buildup. As a result, the ears don’t drain effectively, which increases the likelihood of developing an ear infection.
Symptoms of an Ear Infection
People often experience their ears feeling “plugged” when they have a head cold, but this sensation doesn’t necessarily mean that you have an infection. But it could lead to the development of an infection.
When this part of the ear is affected by an infection, it can cause quite a bit of discomfort and pain. These are some of the most common symptoms associated with an ear infection:
- Pain in and behind the ear
- Hearing problems
- Balancing issues
- Clear, yellow, or bloody discharge (indicating the eardrum ruptured)
Younger children can’t communicate the pain or pressure they are feeling in the ear. But parents can watch for specific symptoms that might indicate an ear infection, such as:
- Pulling or rubbing at the ear
- Difficulty sleeping
- Acting grumpy
- Loss of appetite
- Crying more than usual
- Not responding to sounds (trouble hearing)
Ear Infection Prevention
Since ear infections often follow a head cold or upper respiratory infection, the best thing you can do to prevent an ear infection is to minimize the risk of illness. Recommendations include:
- Wash your child’s hands frequently throughout the day. Washing reduces the risk of bacteria and virus transfer from one person to the next.
- Limit time in group care: For some families, daycare is unavoidable. But if you can limit the time your child spends in groups of other kids, it will reduce the risk of illness.
- Breastfeed your baby when possible: Researchers have found that breastfeeding might reduce the risk of ear infections.
- Hold the baby upright while eating: If your child takes a bottle, then make sure the baby is held upright while eating. Don’t lay the child down with a bottle propped in the mouth.
- No more pacifier: If your child is over the age of 12 months, then the use of a pacifier makes the child more prone to ear infections. It might be time to break this habit.
- Maintain the vaccination schedule: Immunizations don’t prevent ear infections directly. But they can help to decrease the risk of illnesses that can trigger an ear infection, such as the flu.
It can also be helpful to avoid smoky environments. Doctors have found that ear infections are more common when people are spending time around cigarette smoke.
Common Treatments for Ear Infection
Usually, an ear infection diagnosis can be determined based on your symptoms and an exam. The doctor can use an otoscope (a small tool with a light) to look at the throat, ears, and nasal passages.
Some ear infections can resolve on their own without treatment. If the symptoms are minor, then it might be recommended to wait for a few days to see what happens. Antibiotics can be effective for ear infection treatment, but doctors try to use them on an as-needed basis to minimize the risk of antibiotic-resistant strains of infection.
Another treatment approach is pain management. For example, you can use medications such as Tylenol (acetaminophen) or ibuprofen (Motrin, Advil, etc.) to reduce the pain. If the eardrum doesn’t have a hole in it, then anesthetic drops can be used for pain management.
When ear infections are recurring, it might be recommended to have tubes put in a child’s ear. This outpatient procedure can help to maintain ventilation in the middle ear by facilitating drainage. Sometimes, tubes stay in for 6 – 12 months. Other tubes are designed to last for a longer time if needed.
Is it Time for Medical Treatment for an Ear Infection?
Some infections can clear up on their own without medical attention. But if you notice that the symptoms persist for more than a week, then it might be time to talk to a doctor. Pay attention to these symptoms that indicate it is time to see a doctor for ear infection treatment.
When Children Need to See a Doctor
- A fever over 104 F, or 100.4 F if the child is younger than 3 months
- Severe pain in the ear area and over-the-counter pain relievers aren’t helping
- Pus or bloody discharge from the ear
When Adults Need to See a Doctor
Adults have larger Eustachian tubes, and the shape is different than children, which helps to reduce the risk of ear infection development. If you have mild or severe ear pain that doesn’t go away, or you notice fluids coming out of your ear, then it can be helpful to talk to a doctor right away.
Schedule an Appointment at a Local Urgent Care
The easiest solution for ear infection treatment is to schedule an exam at the nearest urgent care. There’s no reason to delay treatment if you suspect that you have an infection. We offer fast service for the whole family and competitive prices. Our goal is to help your family maintain excellent health throughout the year.
We have a board-certified medical staff available, offering both emergency treatments and urgent care services. Contact our team at iCare ER and Urgent Care: (214) 407-8668.