If you're a parent and you've always thought your child gets more ear infections during the colder months of the year, you're correct. The cold (or often, colds) they catch during winter are directly related to those irritating ear infections.
The most common type of inner ear infection affects the middle ear, which is located behind the eardrum. Normally, the Eustachian tube that connects the back of the throat to the middle ear, automatically drains any fluid produced in the middle ear. However, should anything happen to block or otherwise slow the normal path of that fluid, it can back up and cause an infection. A sinus infection or a cold virus causing swelling of the Eustachian tube is the most common culprit children run into this time of year.
What should you look out for and what can be done?
A child that already has a cold, difficulty sleeping, and/or a fever combined with complaints about ear pain, are the most common things you'll see. Vomiting, diarrhea, and occasionally some hearing loss may accompany it, as well.
If an ear infection is confirmed, your physician may only recommend acetaminophen or ibuprofen for pain relief, as caring for the cold itself will generally take care of the ear infection without the use of antibiotics. In fact, the American Academy of Pediatrics released updated guidelines in February of 2013 stating that only children who present severe symptoms of pain and swelling for at least 48 hours, or have a fever higher than 102.2F should be prescribed antibiotics.
As far as prevention, there are a number of different things you can do as a parent to help minimize your child's risk of an ear infection:
- Don't smoke. Research has shown that children exposed to cigarette smoke (or even its fumes) in the home have a higher occurrence of ear infections.
- Wash your hands. The same guidelines we as adults follow to reduce the chances of catching a cold apply to children and ear infections. If you can keep the colds away, chances are the ear infections will stay away, as well.
- Lose the pacifier. Research indicates that babies who still use their pacifier after twelve months of age are more prone to get ear infections.
While you can purchase over-the-counter (OTC) devices at your local pharmacy to check your child's ear yourself for any fluid, you should always consult with a healthcare provider to provide an accurate diagnosis.