It’s painfully ear-ritating!

It's painfully ear-ritating

The sense of hearing plays an important part in how a child perceives her surrounding and it also supports her learning process. However, when a child’s immune system is still developing, they are unfortunately prone to becoming victims of unpleasant ear infections. Here’s the A-Z of what you need to know about ear infections.

An enriching life filled with a symphony of sounds creates sweet memories in a child’s life. The sense of hearing has an important role as it is part of and completes four other major senses – sight, taste, touch and smell. All the senses aid in creating a balance in a child’s development. However, when one of the senses have been infected, it will leave the child feeling uncomfortable and distressed.

Tropicana Medical Centre’s ENT, Head and Neck Consultant, Dr Balachandran Appoo shares his insights on one of the most prevalent infections that is observed in children – ear infections.

Irritable infection

An ear infection can occur in the outer ear due to infected wax or trauma due to unhealthy cleaning (E.g. cotton bud & sharp instruments). It is an inflammation of the middle ear that is caused by germs – bacteria and viruses, from a cold or other upper respiratory infections. When the germs travel up the Eustachian tube, which connects the space behind the eardrum to the back of the nose, the space between the eardrum will be infected. This will cause the Eustachian tube to swell and be inflamed.

As a result, it can cause the tube to become blocked and thus air cannot reach the space between the eardrum. When this happens, fluid and pus collect in the space which causes the eardrum to bulge out. This will in turn cause the child excruciating pain.

“Children are more prone to getting an ear infection due to many other factors. To name a few would be the anatomy of the airway, the child’s exposure to children with infections, poor socioeconomic status and genetics,” says Dr Balanchandran.

Types of ear infection

An ear infection can be divided into three forms depending on the acuteness of the infection. There’s acute otitis media, which is a sudden but temporary inflammation in the middle ear. While recurrent acute otitis media is when an ear infection keeps coming back even after the infection has been healed. Chronic otitis media with effusion (OME), also known as glue ear is a painless but persistent accumulation of sticky thick fluid in the middle ear.

“Recurrence of the ear infection can cause many issues. It can cause eardrum perforation (a hole in the ear drum), infection and scarring of the eardrum as well as glue ear which leads to reduced hearing. On top of that, it can cause recurrent episodes of imbalance, known as vertigo. Nonetheless, these conditions are preventable. An example would be to recognise the source and treat it early,” explains Dr Balanchandran.

Diagnosing the problem

The symptoms of ear infections also occur in other illnesses, but the most significant sign is when the pain in the ear is accompanied by a fever and complaints from the child of reduced hearing in the affected ear.

“To diagnose an ear infection, the most noticeable sign is when there is a painful swelling around the ear, a foul-smelling discharge coming out from the ear and a fever with decreased hearing associated with Upper Respiratory Infection (URTI),” explains Dr Balanchandran.

Ear infections can last for days or weeks, depending on the source of the infection and whether it is associated with nasal conditions.

Treatments to the rescue

Depending on how severe the child’s condition is, the doctor may either wait to see whether the infection will clear up by itself or recommend treatment with antibiotics if the child is unwell and feverish. This is to eliminate any infection in the body.

Factors such as how serious the infection is, the child’s age, how often the child had an ear infection and whether the child has any other medical conditions will be taken into consideration before making the appropriate decision as to how to treat the infection.

“Treatment for an ear infection can be divided into two. The first focuses on a regular ear infection while the other is associated with URTI (nasal infection). A regular ear infection can be treated by either cleaning the ear, ear packing with antibiotics ointment, analgesics – a type of pain reliever, or oral antibiotics.

On the other hand, when the ear infection is associated with URTI, IV and oral antibiotics will be prescribed. While analgesics and nasal decongestants are among other options,” says Dr Balanchandran.

“Parents can manage simple ear pain with home remedies. However, if the pain worsens or the child develops associated complains such as a fever, headache, vertigo and neck pain, then parents must seek advice from doctors. In general, parents must evaluate the situation when the child cries or complains about the pain in the ear, discharge or reduced hearing. It is highly advisable to seek treatment if the symptoms persist,” adds Dr Balanchandran.

One of the main concerns and complications when it comes to ear infections is hearing loss. The fluid that collects behind the eardrum can last for weeks to months after the pain of an ear infection is over. However, the fluid is usually gone in 80% of children within 12 weeks. Nevertheless, it does no harm to bring a child in for a check-up with a doctor after the child has recovered. This is to ensure that the child’s sense of hearing is functioning well and that the infection is gone for good.

Preventing ear infections!

#1 Vaccinate your child against the flu.

#2 Prevent germs from spreading by frequently practising hand washing.

#3 Limit your child’s exposure to sick children.

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