Friday, 22 August 2008

Ear Infections

Ear infections are one of the most common illnesses in babies and young children. Most ear infections are middle ear infection, young children are more prone to these types of infections, because the tubes which connect the throat to the middle ear are softer and shorter. This means that germs can reach the middle ear more easily than in older children, whose tubes are longer and more vertical. In younger children the tubes are prone to getting blocked, so that there is less ventilation into the middle ear space.

Although they may cause fever and pain in the short-term, they usually get better with treatment and there are no long-term consequences.

Some children do have recurrent ear infections, for reasons that are still not clear, and these may lead to a condition known as ‘glue ear’ and can result in hearing loss. ‘Glue ear’ is the term used to describe the presence of thick, glue-like secretions in the middle ear. These are sometimes the consequence of repeated ear infections. Glue ear, very often affects the child’s hearing, which in turn may have an impact on the child’s speech development.

Ear infections in young children need to be seen promptly by a doctor and followed up to make sure that they don’t keep coming back.

The symptoms experienced depends on the age of the child, symptoms may include fever, irritability or drowsiness, loss of appetite, nausea or vomiting and sometimes diarrhoea, and headache. Younger children may tug their ear, or poke their finger inside. While sometimes ear infections are ‘silent’ and do not cause any specific symptoms, usually your child will complain of earache, or of a feeling of fullness or pressure in the ear. Babies may cry a lot and pull at the affected ear, especially at night when lying down. Some children may suffer severe and intense pain in their ear. Ear infections can cause a temporary decrease in hearing, so that some children may have noticeable partial deafness during ear infections. Occasionally the eardrum may rupture (perforated eardrum), with a thick and sometimes bloody discharge. This creates some relief of the pressure that has built up in the ear as a result of the infection, and eases the pain, do not panic the burst eardrum usually heals naturally.

When an ear infection is diagnosed antibiotics are usually only given to babies and children who are very unwell, as symptoms of a middle ear infection usually get better without intervention within 24 hours. if you child is diagnosed with an ear infection an is prescribed antibiotics, even if the symptoms have improved always make sure that the child finishes the whole course of treatment, as stopping too soon could make the infection come back.

Your G.P. may tell you to give your child infant painkillers such as Calpol to help with the pain and bring down any fever

Many children who have recurrent ear infections, or a chronic infection (glue ear), may require the insertion of ventilating tubes (grommets) into the eardrum. This prevents fluid from building up behind the drum, and helps to preserve hearing. This is a very common procedure in childhood, and usually your child can be a day patient. Grommets usually fall out after 6-12 months, although sometimes special tubes are inserted which will stay in longer. Unfortunately in some children, grommets may need to be reinserted again if infections recur.