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You see your child pulling at her ear and she doesn’t seem to be responding to sounds. These signs are a couple of the symptoms of an ear infection, a condition that is common in young children.


Timely Treatment for Ear Infections

If you suspect your child might have an ear infection, bring him in to your local MedExpress center. Our friendly, welcoming medical team can quickly evaluate your child so you can start treatment to get your little one feeling better fast. 

What is an Ear Infection?

Acute otitis media is a middle ear infection typically caused by a virus or bacteria. It is often the result of other conditions such as an upper respiratory infection or allergies that result in the swelling of the Eustachian tubes. When there is a subsequent buildup of fluid in the middle ear or the surrounding tissues of the mastoid bone, there is also an increased risk of ear infection. 

The Role of Eustachian Tubes
The Eustachian tubes go from each middle ear to high in the back of your throat, where they can open and close to regulate air pressure and drain fluid in the ears. 

Children are more susceptible to ear infections because their Eustachian tubes are narrower and more horizontal, making it more difficult for the tubes to drain.

Acute otitis media with effusion (OME) can also occur when the Eustachian tubes become clogged. 

nurse checking a boys ear

Ear Infection Signs

An ear infection may be present without any apparent symptoms or your child may exhibit a range of these:

  • Ear pain, which can be worse when lying down.
  • Tugs or pulls at ear.
  • Cries more than usual.
  • Fails to respond to sounds.
  • Is unusually irritable.
  • Has a fever.
  • Has drainage from the ear.
  • Has a headache.
  • Has temporary hearing loss.

Although ear infections are more common in children, adults can get them, too. If you notice any of the above ear infection signs after you’ve had a cold or a flare up of seasonal allergies, visit MedExpress for an evaluation. 

Diagnosing Ear Infections

To diagnose an ear infection, your MedExpress medical team will need information about symptoms and will perform a physical exam. During the exam, the provider will use an otoscope to look inside the ears.

If the ear looks inflamed, a pneumatic otoscope may be used to confirm whether there is fluid behind the eardrum. A pneumatic otoscope gently puffs air against the eardrum, which should cause the eardrum to move. If the eardrum doesn’t move, or only moves a little, then that means the middle ear is filled with fluid.

Risk Factors

The likelihood of blocked eustachian tubes and middle ear infection can often be increased by the following risk factors:

Immune system
The weaker the immune system, the higher the risk of frequent ear infections. Upper respiratory tract infections and sinusitis may also lead to issues with the ear tubes.

Seasonal allergies, allergies to specific substances or chronic allergies may all increase the risk of ear infections.

Family history
If others in your family have had a chronic history, your likelihood of getting one may be increased.

Physical conditions
Those with craniofacial (head/face) conditions such as cleft palate or enlarged structures in their ears, nose or throat may be at increased risk of ear infections.

Treating Ear Infections

Treatment for an ear infection depends upon the patient’s age and the severity of the infection. Some ear infections get better without the use of antibiotics. 

Wait and Watch
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends a “wait-and-see” approach when it comes to treating ear infections, depending on the age of the patient and severity of their symptoms. Our medical team can evaluate children to determine the appropriate treatment - whether that is medication right away or "wait-and-see."

If it’s determined that a bacterial infection is present, it may be necessary to treat the bacterial infection with antibiotics. The provider will prescribe antibiotics based on age, whether the patient has an acute infection and if they have an allergy to penicillin.  

Managing Discomfort
While you wait until the infection clears, there are a couple of things you can do to manage the discomfort. First, you can try placing a warm compress over the affected ear. Next, you can use ibuprofen or acetaminophen to lessen the pain.

Reducing Risk

There are several simple ways that you can reduce the possibility of ear infections, including getting a yearly flu vaccine, washing your hands before touching your ears and keeping the ear lobes clean.

Swimmer's ear is an ear infection that results when water is trapped in the ear canal, allowing bacteria to grow. This often impacts people who participate in water-based sports. To prevent the pain and discomfort of this infection:

  • Use ear plugs if you are frequently in water.
  • Turn your head from side to side after getting out of the water to help drain it from your ears.
  • Don't insert anything into your ear canal.
  • To help prevent bacteria from growing within your ear, use drops specifically made for swimmer's ear or a mix of one drop vinegar with one drop of isopropyl (rubbing) alcohol. Check with your provider before using this remedy.

To reduce the risk in children, pediatricians recommend limiting pacifier use after six months and ensuring that bottle fed children are fed properly so that liquids do not dribble into their ears, creating a moist environment where ear infections can occur.

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