Ear Infections in Children

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What is
How is an ear infection
Outer Ear
acute otitis media?
diagnosed?
Acute otitis media is the medical term
An ear infection should not be diagnosed
Eardrum
for the common ear infection. Otitis refers to
over the telephone. A doctor or other health
an ear infection and media means middle. So,
caregiver should examine the child. Usually,
acute otitis media is an infection of the
the child should be seen within 24 hours.
middle ear, which is located behind the
However, an emergency room visit is not
eardrum.
necessary unless ordered by your health
Inner Ear
caregiver. While waiting for the office visit,
There is a tube, called the Eustachian tube,
you can give the child a non-aspirin pain
Ear Canal
that connects the middle ear to the nose. This
Middle Ear
reliever, such as ACETAMINOPHEN or
tube helps drain extra fluid from the middle
IBUPROFEN, to control the pain.
ear. When a child has a cold, swelling in the
Eustachian Tube
nose may impede drainage. Germs (either
During the examination, your child’s health
viruses or bacteria) can enter the middle ear
caregiver will take a brief history and carefully
and cause an infection. The infection results
examine the ear, checking the appearance and
in increased fluid in the ear and can cause
movement of the eardrum.
caregiver does not discuss it, you may want to
Of course, differences in children, and the
pain, fever and irritability.
ask if this is an option for your child.
severity of the illness, may change
these choices.
How is an ear infection
A child who is seen in an emergency room or
Remember, a single dose of an antibiotic will
When should
urgent care center may be given an antibiotic
treated?
if the health caregiver is concerned that the
not make the ear infection feel better! In
a parent suspect
child will not see his or her own health
fact, the antibiotic will not relieve the
caregiver within 48 hours.
symptoms. Ear pain from an infection should
an ear infection?
Until recently, all children with ear
be treated with a non-aspirin pain reliever.
infections were given antibiotics. New
It is important that you allow the caregiver
research suggests that many children with ear
Even if your child appears better, make sure
A parent should suspect an ear infection
to decide if the observation option will be
infections will get better without antibiotics,
that your child takes all the antibiotics
when a child becomes ill with fever, is
used. If, on the other hand, antibiotics are
and with no ill effects. This is called the
prescribed by your health caregiver.
irritable, and usually complains of pain in the
needed, you should trust him or her to
“observation option.” This option reduces the
ear. Many children who develop ear infections
select the proper medication and course of
use of unnecessary antibiotics, and limits the
will first have colds. However, ear pain can be
child’s exposure to the side effects of
treatment. A parent should not insist on
caused by other problems, such as a sore
antibiotics. It also reduces the chance that
choosing the antibiotic.
Is follow-up care
throat, without an ear infection.
“super bacteria” — bacteria that cannot be
If an antibiotic is prescribed, it will likely be
necessary?
killed by antibiotics — will develop.
AMOXICILLIN, unless the child is allergic to
Your child’s health caregiver may offer this
penicillin. Depending on the situation, the
If the child is better in 48 hours with
option if your child is over age 2, does not
provider may decide that the child should
either treatment option, the health caregiver
have pus draining from the ear, has not had
take the antibiotic for five days instead of the
may choose not to see the child again for two
an ear infection in more than three months,
usual 10 days. This should be the decision of
to four weeks. If, however, the symptoms are
is otherwise healthy, and will have medical
the health caregiver. If the treatment doesn’t
not resolved in 48 hours, the child should be
follow-up within 48 hours. If your health
work, more antibiotics may be needed.
re-examined.

Can ear infections
You should
Prepared by:
be prevented?
also remember:
Ear
The Capital Region
Ear infections are very common in
1. Breastfeeding appears to lower an
children. But there are things parents can
infant’s risk of ear infections.
Otitis Media Project
Infections
do to reduce the number of ear infections
2. Children under age two should not lie flat
1998-99
their children may have.
when they bottle-feed.
Ear infections are not contagious or spread
Albany Chapter, New York State
in Childr
in Child e
r n
3. No one should be allowed to smoke
from one person to another, but the colds
Academy of Family Practice
around children. Secondhand smoke
that result in ear infections are. Colds are
increases a child’s risk for ear infections.
spread when germs are released from the
Capital District Pediatric Society
In fact, even smoke from wood stoves
nose or mouth during coughing or sneezing.
can irritate breathing and increase the
Anything that can reduce the spread of
Capital District Physicians’ Health Plan
risk of an ear infection.
germs will help reduce ear infections.
4. Children in day care centers tend to have
Kaiser Permanente/Community Health Plan
Because most ear infections occur in
more colds and a higher risk of ear
children under the age of three, parents can
infection. Although it would be best to
Mohawk Valley Physicians’ Health Plan
play an active role in preventing them:
keep an ill child at home, this may not
1. Have children use disposable tissues
be possible. Parents should work with
New York State Department of Health
when they blow their noses or to cover
day care center staff to ensure proper
their mouths when they cough.
handwashing, tissue use and cleanliness.
2. Teach children that tissues should be
If, despite your best efforts, you think that
used only once and then thrown away
your child has an ear infection, make sure
properly.
that he or she is examined by a doctor or
health caregiver. And, if there is an
3. Do not allow children to share toys that
infection, be sure to follow the
they put in their mouths.
recommended treatment approaches.
4. Wash dirty toys in hot, soapy water
Always contact your child’s doctor or health
before allowing other children to play
caregiver first!
with them.
5. Teach children to always wash their
hands after sneezing or coughing into
them.
An ear infection is one of the most
6. Do not allow sick children to share food
frequent reasons parents take a child
or drinks.
State of New York
to see a doctor. This brochure will help
7. Regularly wash and disinfect all surface
George E. Pataki, Governor
you understand this disease and the
areas and common play areas.
Department of Health
treatment methods that may be
Antonia C. Novello, M.D., M.P.H., Dr.P.H., Commissioner
8. Do not share bathroom cups and other
suggested by your child’s doctor or
utensils that go in the mouth.
4815
8/00
health caregiver.