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Middle ear infection

8 May 2022

An ear infection is a bacterial or viral infection of the middle ear. Symptoms include pain and a feeling of fullness in the ear. Ear infections usually improve within 24-48 hours, but paracetamol or eardrops can help with pain. Do not clean your child's ear with cotton wool or a cotton bud.

Middle ear infection, also known as otitis media, is an infection that occurs in the fluid behind the eardrum. The infection can be caused by bacteria or a virus. Ear infections are common in young children, with more than 80% of children having had one by the time they are three years old. The medical name for an ear infection is otitis media. The ear has three main parts: the outer ear (the ear canal and ear lobe), the middle ear (behind the eardrum, and linked to the throat), and the inner ear (which has the nerves that help detect sound). Otitis media is an infection of the middle ear. It occurs when fluid builds up behind the eardrum and becomes infected. The fluid may be caused by a cold or allergies. Symptoms of otitis media include pain, fever, irritability, and trouble sleeping. Treatment usually involves antibiotics. In some cases, surgery may be necessary to insert tubes into the ears to drain the fluid. Middle ear infections are common, but they can be serious. If you think your child may have an infection, contact your doctor. Early diagnosis and treatment are important to prevent complications.

Middle ear infection symptoms can vary depending on the person. They may experience earache, a feeling of fullness or pressure in the ear, difficulty hearing, or feelings of unsteadiness or imbalance. Fever, a runny nose, irritability, and a lack of appetite are also common symptoms. Some people might also experience severe and intense pain in their ears. In some cases, the eardrum might rupture. This will cause a thick and sometimes bloody discharge from the ear which will help to relieve pressure that has built up in the ear due to the infection. The burst eardrum usually heals naturally. Sometimes people don't experience any specific symptoms. If an ear infection keeps coming back, it might lead to glue ear, which is a thick, glue-like ooze in the middle ear. Glue Ear might be associated with varying degrees of hearing loss, which could lead to behavioural, language, and educational difficulties.

The GP will look at the inside of your child's ear to see if there is an infection. They might also do a test to see how well your child's eardrum can move. This can help the GP figure out if there is an infection. If your child has had several ear infections, or if the doctor thinks there might be a chronic infection or glue ear, the doctor might organise a hearing test.

Most middle ear infections get better within 24-48 hours without antibiotics. You can give your child paracetamol to help with pain. If the infection does not improve or your child is very uncomfortable after 48 hours, your GP might prescribe a short course of antibiotics. Most children improve after a few days of antibiotic treatment, but it is important to finish the whole treatment even if your child feels better. Stopping too soon could make the infection come back. Often your GP will want to see you again when your child has finished the treatment, to make sure the infection has cleared up. Decongestants, antihistamines and corticosteroids do not work as a treatment for middle ear infections. Putting cotton wool in your child's ear or cleaning discharge with a cotton bud can damage the ear and is not recommended. If your child has recurrent ear infections or glue ear, they might need a long course of antibiotics. Glue Ear usually improves within three months but it is important to have regular checkups with your GP during this time to make sure it is getting better.

There are ways to prevent middle ear infections in children. One way is to have special tubes put into the eardrums. This stops fluid from building up and keeps the child's hearing from getting worse. If your child needs these tubes, they will see a specialist who deals with ears, noses, and throats. Another way to prevent infection is to avoid smoking around your child. Children who are exposed to second-hand smoke are more likely to get sick, including middle ear infections.

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