A Real Pain In the … Ear

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Pain from an ear infection is no joke. Whether you are a child or an adult, it’s a miserable experience. So, how do ear infections happen? Who is at risk? And what should you do about them?

What Is an Ear Infection?

Ear infections can be in the middle ear or ear canal. The medical name for a middle ear infection is otitis media. It’s the most common type of ear infection. Acute otitis externa, better known as swimmer’s ear, is infection of the ear canal.

Ear infections in the middle ear are caused when the eustachian tube (which runs from the middle of the ear to the back of the throat) gets clogged. Normally, this tube drains fluid from the ear. But infection can start when the drainage is blocked as the result of a cold, allergies, excess mucous from teething (in babies, of course), infected adenoids, or tobacco smoke.

If your doctor confirms that you have an ear infection, she may not immediately prescribe antibiotics.

What Are the Symptoms?

If you’re experiencing pain in the ear as an adult, you know it’s probably an ear infection. However, it’s much more difficult to tell in children. Here are some of the symptoms:

  • Ear pain
  • Increased irritability
  • Pulling at the ears
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Fluid draining from the ears
  • Fever
  • Imbalance
  • Difficulty hearing

P-W-WMN94737-Pain-In-The-Ear-sm-350Who Is At Risk?

Who Is At Risk?

If any of these descriptions apply to you or your child, the risk for ear infection increases:

  • Your child attends daycare (especially with more than six kids)
  • The weather is cold
  • You’ve changed altitude or climate
  • You’re exposed to cigarette smoke
  • Your family has a history of ear infections
  • Your child is not breastfed
  • Your child uses a pacifier
  • You’ve had a recent illness or another recent ear infection

 What Should You Do About It?

If you think that you or your child may have an ear infection, it’s a good idea to go in for a doctor’s office visit.

If your doctor confirms that you have an ear infection, she may not immediately prescribe antibiotics. Or she may write you a prescription but advise you to wait to fill it until a few days pass. Many health care providers advise “watchful waiting” for two to three days before prescribing antibiotics, because many ear infections resolve on their own.

During this waiting period, to deal with the pain, you can take (or give your child) over-the-counter pain relievers like acetaminophen or ibuprofen.

Antibiotics don’t help in all ear infection cases, and over-prescription of antibiotics is leading to antibiotic resistance.

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