Ear Pain and Ear Infections
Earaches and ear infections are one of the most common complaints of childhood. In fact, otitis media (the technical diagnosis for an ear infection) is one of the most common reasons that parents will bring their child to an urgent care. Over 80% of children will have at least one case of otitis media by the time they are 6 years old.
But do you know the difference between just a common earache and an actual bacterial ear infection? When should you take your child to the urgent care to have ear pain checked out? When is an antibiotic necessary?
Earaches and ear infections can have a variety of causes and can affect different areas of the ear. For instances, during the summer, one of the most common complaints treated is an outer ear infection called “Swimmers ear.” While not as painful or dangerous as a middle ear infection (otitis media) – Swimmer’s ear can often be just an inflammation or irritation of the outer canal cause by excessive moisture which then promotes bacteria or fungal growth.
Prevention and Treatment
- Decrease exposure to water (wear ear plugs – keep ear plugs clean between use)
- Use swimmer’s ear drops after exposure
- Dry ears after exposure (blow dryer at arm’s length)
- Keep ears clean – free from wax (3% peroxide on a regular basis to remove wax buildup)
- Do not put cotton swabs in ears
Middle Ear Infections
Middle or inner ear infections (otitis media) are characterized by more severe and longer-term symptoms. Additionally, there is usually no indication of trauma to the ear as in the case of an outer ear/Swimmer’s ear type infection.
Symptoms for a middle ear infection include:
- Earache/pain – usually sharp, or sudden pain or dull, continuous pain
- Drainage from the ear
- Feeling of fullness in the ear
- Muffled hearing
- Loss of balance
- Tugging on ear
- Poor sleep
- May be accompanied by other upper respiratory symptoms / runny nose, productive cough
Providers will prescribe antibiotics if there is any indication that the middle ear is infected such as the presence of pus, fever, pain and a bulging, reddened tympanic membrane. Most otitis media infections are resolved with common antibiotics like Amoxicillin. It is extremely important that a full course of antibiotics are completed, even if the patient feels like the infection and/ or pain is resolved; especially in children where another ear infection is highly likely to occur.