What causes a middle ear infection?
Middle ear infection is caused by either a virus or bacteria (about two-thirds of infections).
- A middle ear infection most commonly follows a cold, flu or sinusitis, causing a blocked Eustachian tube.
- Fluid collects in the middle ear that may become infected with bacteria, creating a build-up of pus and painful pressure.
- Approximately 80 per cent of children will experience an ear infection at least once, most commonly between six months and two years of age.
- Children are more likely to suffer from ear infections if they are not breastfed, go to day care or are around smokers.
- Ear infections are not contagious, but the cold, flu or sinusitis that preceded the infection can be passed on.
Symptoms of a middle ear infection
In very young children, an infection may be difficult to detect. See your doctor if you think your child may have an ear infection. Your child may complain that they have one or more of the following symptoms:
- Ear pain and discomfort.
- Lack of appetite, nausea and vomiting.
- Young children and babies may pull/rub/poke their ears.
- Discharge from the ear.
- Your child may suffer hearing loss for the duration of the infection.
- Difficulty sleeping.
- Occasionally the eardrum ‘bursts’, causing fluid to leak out of the ear. This condition normally rectifies itself without treatment.
In most cases, middle ear infections will clear up without any complications. In some cases, your doctor may recommend:
- Ear drops.
- Make children as comfortable as possible.
- Keep child hydrated.
- Elevate their heads in bed.
What is glue ear?
Glue ear occurs when the fluid or pus in the ear doesn’t clear after the infection resolves. This blockage can be very uncomfortable and may lead to developmental problems because the child cannot hear properly. Treatment may include inserting a grommet (ventilating tube) under general anaesthetic. High dose antibiotics and adenoid removal may also be considered.
There is no definitive way to prevent ear infections, but improving your child’s overall health and immunity may help to reduce the rate of infection.
- Never smoke around children.
- Breastfeeding may help to prevent infection in babies and toddlers.
- Immune-boosting supplements formulated specifically for children may help.
- Ensure that your child has a nutritious diet rich in fresh fruit and vegetables and low in junk food.
Never insert cotton buds or anything other than ear drops (under medical advice) into children’s ears.