Earaches - Causes and Treatments
The most common cause of earache in children is infection of the middle ear
(space just behind the eardrum). 80% of children have at least one episode of
ear infection before the age of three. Other causes of earache are: infection of
the external ear canal (from the ear-hole up to the eardrum), foreign body in
the ear canal, impacted wax in the ear and toothache.
Middle-Ear Infection (Otitis Media)
The story typically starts with an
ordinary cold, drippy nose accompanied by sneezing. On the third or fourth day,
the child becomes more irritable and begins to cry, pointing towards his/her
ear. Usually, the child also develops a fever ranging from 101 to 102 degrees F
and there is a yellowish discharge from the nose. In some cases, the eardrum
bursts as a result of the pressure of the pus that builds up behind it. The pus
comes out from the ear, after which the child stops crying.
Keeping the feet warm or covering the ears with caps and mufflers will not
prevent ear infections; the germs crawl up from the throat on the inside - not
the outside. Blowing the nose too much or too vigorously may blow bacteria up
the throat and into the middle ear space.
Middle ear infections should not be taken lightly because repeated ear
infection can cause deafness. Deafness can adversely affect the child's speech
development. The infection from the ear can easily reach the brain causing
meningitis; a potentially fatal condition.
Why do some children get recurrent ear infections? Inadequate treatment of a
minor cold or throat infection seems to be the most obvious cause. It could also
be due to an immune system weakened by improper diet and lack of nutrition.
The most common treatment is with antibiotics. Proper selection of
an antibiotic by the doctor is of utmost importance. The antibiotic is generally
given orally and should be continued for at least ten days.
As additional treatment, use anti-cold preparations containing antihistamines and decongestants are
usually given simultaneously. Apply a hot water bottle or moist hot cloth to the
ear for ten to fifteen minutes, three to four times a day if the child complains
of pain. Painkillers (Ibuprofen, Paracetamol) may be used if there is a lot of
pain. The ear must be kept dry and the pus cleaned frequently. Use earplugs made
of cotton balls while bathing, to prevent water from going inside the middle ear
through the perforated eardrum. This practice should be continued for as long as
possible, otherwise the middle ear infection would return.
Sometimes a clear fluid remains behind the eardrum even after the child has
recovered from the illness. This generally gets absorbed on its own. But, if
there is significant loss of hearing even after two months, the doctor may
decide to drain it by putting in a tiny tube.
External Ear Infection (Otitis Externa)
Any ear infection which remains
confined to the space external to the ear drum is called Otitis externa.
Bacteria, fungus, allergy, etc. can all cause external ear infection. It is
common in swimmers, hence it is also known as Swimmer’s ear.
The child does not necessarily have a cough or cold, but may complain of
earache. The ear canal may appear red and there may be a small boil inside.
Movement of the ear aggravates the pain. Nodes in the vicinity may be enlarged.
Antibiotic drops/ointment generally cures the condition. In some cases
antibiotics may have to be given orally Do not allow swimming for at least a
week or so until the condition improves.
Wax normally lines the external ear canal and protects it from
invading germs. Sometimes it hardens and gets impacted against the eardrum
causing an earache.
It is best to consult your doctor about the wax. At times, impacted wax can
be removed from the ear canal with this home treatment or remedy. By putting two to three drops of coconut oil inside the ear for three
nights and then flushing it out with warm water filled in a syringe without a
needle, you can clear the wax and relieve the earache. You may have to flush the ear several times before the wax comes out. Do
not push in the water with great force and stop immediately if the child
complains of dizziness or pain.
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