We are no strangers to ear infections in our house, with a child that had chronic glue ear and ear infections until he had grommet surgery when he was 3 years old. He has had one or two since then but thankfully far less.
They are unpleasant & painful, both for adults and children, and can have long term effects on hearing.
They can be very common and are part of the gamut of childhood illnesses that parents deal with but can also affect adults too.
An ear infection is classified as an infection of the middle ear, the air-filled space behind the eardrum that contains the tiny vibrating bones of the ear.
If the Eustachian tube gets blocked, fluid builds up inside the ear causing pressure and pain. An ear infection may also cause a low grade or high fever (we often missed ear infections for our boy because he rarely gets a temperature when he has an ear infection) and may make their victim feel unwell and very uncomfortable.
Ear infections can be caused by many things that cause the eustachian tube to be blocked. So a bad cold or sinus infection can be a cause. Bacteria introduced into the ear canal can cause ear infections too, and ear infections can be common in people or children who swim regularly. (we use special drops to protect ears when swimming) and sometimes an object in the ear canal that has got stuck can cause an infection (and why we encourage children NOT to put small objects in their ears)
Most ear infections will self resolve, and don’t need antibiotics, but sometimes your doctor or ENT specialist will suggest a course of antibiotics to help clear up the infection. Grommet surgery may be required if infections are ongoing or are found to be causing hearing loss or other more serious health issues.
An ear infection can become serious enough that the eardrum will actually burst or perforate, which, having seen this happen to our son, we know is incredibly painful and unpleasant. This can also cause scarring and damage to the eardrum.
Some people are more prone to ear infections, but you can try and manage them or take steps to prevent them:
- Don’t put things in your ears, ie small objects, lotions or drops unless prescribed by a doctor or health professional.
- Don’t use ear or cotton buds to clean your ears yourself. This often can push ear wax and debris further down into the ear and cause a blockage, damage or trigger an infection.
- If you have a cold, try and keep the pressure on your eustachian tubes to a minimum because they are linked to your sinuses. Blowing your nose, using decongestants to ease sinus pressure and relieve symptoms and sleeping so you are not lying flat until your cold has cleared can help.
- If you go swimming, try and make sure you don’t get water in your ears, by using drops or earplugs. If you do get water in your ears, you can help it to drain by gently tipping your head from side to side and massaging just below your ear on the side of your face.
- If you have an excessive build up of ear wax that you think is blocking your ears or causing discomfort or pain, don’t try and remove it yourself. It’s better to seek medical help and advice, rather than trying to remove the wax yourself at home and risk damaging your inner ear and ear drum.
If you or your child is struggling with ear infections or has one that won’t heal, then it’s best to seek medical advice.
It isn’t always possible to prevent ear infections, but you can try. My mother always used to say “the only thing you should put in your ear is your elbow”, I am not sure we ever figured out quite how to do that, but it certainly kept us busy trying. Perhaps she was right!