5 Common Myths about Ear Infections
The term ear infection has many meanings, but most people use the term to describe middle ear infections. These infections occur when there is an inflammation of the middle ear, and fluid builds up behind the eardrum.
Anyone can get an ear infection, but kids get them more often than adults. The scientific name for an ear infection (a middle ear infection) is otitis media.
Because ear infections are so common, there are many myths that parents learn. Myths are widely known, but FALSE, beliefs or ideas.
Parents should always speak directly with their child’s pediatrician about medical questions. I believe pediatricians should be your primary source of information about your child’s health.
Dr. Momma’s current Myth Buster blog post will shed some light on 5 of the most common myths that she hears in her private practice about ear infections.
All babies get ear infections
Let’s start with the most basic of facts: Every child does not get ear infections.
When your doctor asks how many ear infections your child has had, you should not reply: Just the normal amount for her age. Nope. We need to know YOUR child’s history, not what you think every other child has.
Both of my children attended daycare as infants. One never had an ear infection, and the other only had two in her entire life. Daycare alone is not the reason for ear infections.
Most ear infections are due to viruses, but any inflammation in the nose can cause an ear infection.
When the infections fail to resolve, or recur at a frequent rate, physicians begin to think about alternative management options.
Most ear aches are due to ear infections
I get it. When our kids cry with ear pain, we desperately want to fix it. Tylenol. Motrin. Teething remedies. Homeopathic treatments. After all their attempts using “Momma Medicine” fail, parents assume there is an ear infection.
There are many problems that lead to ear pain. This list includes some causes for ear aches that are not due to ear infections: wax build up, foreign body in the ear canal, post nasal drainage, tonsillitis, and a variety of dental problems.
Now granted, many of these problems also will need the assistance of your child’s pediatrician. This list is intended to help you focus on ALL of your child’s symptoms and help your physician to determine the next course of action.
Ear infections must be treated with antibiotics
When fluid collects behind the ear drum, the term ear infection is used. However, if the fluid is not infected with bacteria, your doctor may not prescribe antibiotics.
Your child’s current symptoms, the length of time the symptoms have been present and your child’s past medical history are very important in determining how to treat your child’s ear problem.
If your child doesn’t have severe ear pain or a fever, your doctor might ask you to wait a day or two to see if the earache goes away. Your child might be treated for the cough, wheezing or runny nose that is also present.
The American Academy of Pediatrics updated their guidelines in 2013 and encouraged physicians to observe and closely follow children with mild ear infections, especially between ages of 6 months and 2 years.
If there is no improvement in 48-72 hours from when symptoms started, it is then recommended to begin antibiotics.
Kids outgrow ear infections after age 3
The Eustachian tube is a tube that connects the back of the nose to the middle ear. Normally, it is used to allow air pressure to be regulated between the two areas.
If the nose becomes inflamed, the tube swells and fluid collects behind the ear drum causing an ear infection.
The Eustachian tube is immature in infants and grows a significant amount during the toddler years. It becomes nearly mature by age 5.
The more mature the Eustachian tube becomes, the better it functions and the lower the risk for ear infections.
However, if your child has recurrent sinus infections, snoring, allergies and asthma, your child will continue to have inflammation of the respiratory tract. Therefore, ear infections may continue to occur.
Ear infections occur quite frequently in older children, teenagers and adults who have chronic nasal and respiratory inflammation.
Rather than focusing on the number of ongoing ear infections, it can be very beneficial to evaluate and treat the recurrent cause of respiratory tract inflammation.
Ear infections are an emergency
You get home from work. Your child’s cold has worsened and now there is a fever. She is fussy and pulling on her ears. She only wants to drink liquids and is not her normal playful self. Tylenol makes her feel better, but you know there is something still wrong…
Moms know their kids best. If you feel there is something wrong that needs to be checked immediately, please go to the doctor!
Moms often report that the reason they take their children to the emergency room is because they want immediate pain relief and do not want the ear infection to cause permanent ear damage.
Mild to moderate hearing loss occurs with each ear infection due to ear fluid build up. The hearing returns to normal when the infection resolves.
Permanent hearing loss is uncommon but typically results from repeated or chronic ear problems. Emergency room visits do not prevent the permanent hearing loss that parents fear.
If your child is severely ill with fever and ear pain but also has associated cough, vomiting, diarrhea, dehydration or has other worrisome symptoms, your child is an excellent candidate for the emergency room visit. This visit is not to assess the ear infection, but to assess what else is wrong that is making your child so ill.
If your child is mildly to moderately ill, rather than focusing on the potential problems this particular ear infection might cause, you should plan to visit your pediatrician to discuss treatments for this episode AND options to reduce or prevent future infections.
Now you know how to bust these ear infection myths! Be sure to pass this information on to your friends and family!