Prevent Middle Ear Infections by Treating Winter Colds

As you and your child sniff and sneeze through the winter season, remember to consult your physician if the signs and symptoms of ear infection exist. Infants and children are more susceptible to bacterial middle ear infections, especially when the patient has had a recent virus or cold.

It can be a throat infection, an allergy attack, or even a cold that may lead to an ear infection. The tubes that connect the middle ear to the back of the nose, called the eustachian tubes, can become blocked and trap fluid that would normally drain from the middle ear. This buildup can cause discomfort or pain. This fluid then becomes a favorable environment for bacteria or viruses to breed. Some common symptoms that can indicate a build-up of inner ear fluid are pressure in the ear or hearing popping or ringing sounds. With younger children, you may notice them rubbing or pulling their ears to relieve the pressure.

Loss of hearing, balance problems and dizziness may also be symptoms of fluid build-up. However, hearing loss can be difficult to identify in children. Instead you may look for absent-mindedness or inattentiveness to alert you of potential hearing problems. Children may also seem grumpy or cranky.

In severe cases, the fluid in the middle ear builds and increases pressure on the eardrum until it ruptures. If the eardrum ruptures, the fluid drains and the pain usually subsides. Yellow, clear or bloody discharge can mean the eardrum has ruptured. The hole in the eardrum will usually heal by itself in a few weeks. However, if the fluid behind the eardrum persists, a middle ear infection can worsen.

Symptoms of middle ear infections include:
Mild to severe ear pain
Fever
Loss of appetite, vomiting and grumpy behavior
Trouble sleeping
Signs of inattentiveness or loss of hearing
Most patients experience the symptoms of a middle ear infection two to seven days after a cold or respiratory infection. Consult the advice of your physician if your child suffers from the symptoms listed above, particularly children younger than three years old. Some recommendations to prevent ear infections are as follows:

Wash your hands and your child's hands frequently. Avoid smoky environments. Ear infections are more common in people who are around cigarette smoke. Do not allow anyone to smoke in your home or car.

Breast-feed your baby. Research indicates that breast-feeding helps reduce the risk of ear infections, particularly among children with a family history of ear infections. However, if breast-feeding is not an option, avoid bottle-feeding the baby while he or she is lying down.

Parents and patients should know that there are several treatment options available and not assume that antibiotics will be prescribed. Recent studies have shown that conservative treatment may be as efficacious as medical therapy. Allergies may also play a role in the development of chronic ear infections. Non-surgical inflation of the eustachian tube has been shown to relieve chronic middle ear fluid in select cases. This painless, in-office procedure that is performed by your ENT doctor can have a dramatic positive effect.

PHOTO (BLACK & WHITE)

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By Brett Scotch, Dr.

Brett Scotch, D.O. is a board certified Otolaryngologist (Ear, Nose, and Throat) physician that cares for both adults and children. Dr. Scotch's office, ENT & Facial Plastic Surgery Specialists, PL, is located in the Cypress Ridge Professional Center, 2311 Cypress Cove, Suite 101/Building 14 in Wesley Chapel, FL 33544. To make an appointment with Dr. Scotch, call (813) 929-NOSE (6673). Visit www.DrScotchENT.com for more information.

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