BACKGROUND: An ear infection (acute otitis media) is most often a bacterial or viral infection that affects the middle ear; the air-filled space behind the eardrum that contains the tiny vibrating bones of the ear. The infection often results from another illness -- cold, flu, or allergy -- that causes congestion and swelling of the nasal passages, throat, and Eustachian tubes. Children are more likely than adults to get ear infections, but adults can get them as well. Ear infections are a common reason parents bring their child to a doctor. Three out of four children will have at least one ear infection by their third birthday. (SOURCE: www.mayoclinic.com; www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/earinfections.html)
SYMPTOMS: The onset of signs and symptoms of ear infection is usually rapid. Symptoms of ear infection include:
- Hearing loss
- Drainage of fluid from the ear
- Loss of balance
RISK FACTORS: Risk factors for ear infections include:
- Daycare - Children cared for in group settings are more likely to get colds and ear infections than are children who stay home.
- Infant feeding - Babies who drink from a bottle tend to have more ear infections than babies who are breast-fed.
- Poor air quality - Exposure to tobacco smoke or high levels of air pollution can increase the risk of ear infection.
HOME EAR EXAMINATION: A home ear examination can help parents detect many ear problems; such as, ear infections, excessive earwax, or an object in the ear canal. Wilbur Lam, MD, PhD, from Emory University and Georgia Institute of Technology created a smartphone-enabled otoscope for remote diagnosis of pediatric ear infections. The Remotoscope is a clip-on attachment and software app that turns an iPhone into a digital otoscope.
TREATMENT: The goal of treatment for most doctors is to rid the middle ear of infection before more serious complications set in. Treatment usually involves eliminating the causes of the ear infection, killing any invading bacteria, boosting the immune system, and reducing swelling in the Eustachian tube. Doctors typically prescribe an antibiotic to treat the infection, usually Amoxicillin, but there are home remedies, such as:
- Steam inhalations or a warm compress
- When bottle feeding, make sure the baby is in an upright position
- Gargling with salt water helps soothe an aggravated throat and may help clear the Eustachian tubes