How can you differentiate between an earache and an ear infection that needs treatment?
Sarah Hunstead the Founding Director of CPR Kids has extensive experience in Paediatric Emergency Nursing. In this article, she shares her expert tips on how to identify, alleviate and treat ear infections.
As Sarah explains, ear infections can be divided into two main categories: middle ear infections and outer ear infections.
Let’s take a look at Sarah’s expert tips that will help us understand ear infections and how to treat them.
Middle ear infections
These are the most common ear infections in young children.
Sarah explains that children get middle ear infections because, “their tubes that connect their middle ear to their throat are quite small. When a child gets a cold or a viral infection, it’s a lot easier for the germs and viruses to travel up their ear canals which results in an infection.”
Sadly, the pain a child can experience during a middle ear infection is very unpleasant. Sarah understands that middle ear infection pains are, “debilitating and all-consuming”.
When Sarah’s daughter had to deal with an ear infection, she used to describe it at first like her ears “feel blocked”, which is why she might have not been able to hear well. Then, as the infection progressed, her daughter described what she was feeling as if, “somebody was trying to put a really, really hot chopstick into her ear and all over her brain,” says Sarah.
“With a middle ear infection, what you’d expect to see would be that they’re in a lot of pain, they may complain of pressure, you may see some pus once that’s been released as well,” explains Sarah.
However, when the eardrum perforates or bursts, it can give an instant pain relief. “When the eardrum bursts, Sarah highlights it will heal itself, but it can be scarred. A lot of scarring can reduce our hearing as we get older.” She adds, “yet not all ear infections are going to cause scarring.”
Unfortunately, there is no proven way to prevent middle ear infections as your children catch colds. If your child is prone to ear infections, they could get infected even several times a year.
Outer ear infections
An outer ear infection presents itself in a different, more visible way. As Sarah points out, “with an outer ear infection, what you might see is the ear itself may be quite red and swollen. They may have discharge from the ear and even have pain around their face as well.”
How can your child get an outer ear infection?
- Having small or oddly shaped ear canals
- The water they’re swimming in isn’t clean
- Putting their sticky fingers in their ears and constantly scratching
Whatever the case, the problem lies in the fact that all these behaviours can create a moist environment in your child’s ears. Moist and damp environments favour the development of infections.
Sarah advises parents who suspect their children might be having an ear infection to seek medical help.“Go to your paediatrician and listen to what they have to say specifically about what your child needs for their ears, since every child is different,” says Sarah.
How can you treat ear infections?
Most of the times it’s difficult for parents to identify exactly what has happened with their child, since children might have a hard time articulating what hurts.
What you can do is look for symptoms of an ear infection. Your child could show signs of being miserable, inconsolable, pulling at their ears. You may also notice some discharge or swelling to the outer ear, sometimes even a fever or a cold.
How to efficiently alleviate the pain?
There are a few simple and efficient ways to alleviate your child’s ear pain at home. Here are some tips, although Playgroup NSW advises you to always seek for medical advice and never administrate children medication ”by ear”:
- Pain medications: medication you usually keep in your medication cabinet like paracetamol or ibuprofen
- A warm compress over the outside of the ear can also help with the pain
Tip: Sarah discourages parents from putting olive oil in their children’s ear since, “when you take them to the doctor, they can’t see what’s going on in there.”
When it comes to treating your child’s ear infection, Sarah strongly suggests taking them to the doctor. Each type of ear infection has its own kind of treatment.
Let the medical professionals handle this because, “you don’t need to diagnose whether it’s a middle ear or an outer ear infection. What you need to do is take them to the doctor,” highlights Sarah.
She adds, “it’s also about understanding that not all middle ear infections need treatment with antibiotics.” There are a lot of viruses that can cause an ear infection, in which case antibiotics aren’t effective as treatment.
It’s difficult for all parents to see their child suffering, even from a cold or an ear infection. But now that you have a few suggestions on how to manage ear infections, you know how to look for symptoms and get your child a treatment quickly.
Remember, go see a doctor as soon as possible in case you suspect your child might be suffering from an ear infection.
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