Middle ear infections
Middle ear infections, called otitis media, are one of the most common infections of childhood. When your child has a middle ear infection, she has an infection behind her eardrum. Most kids have at least one ear infection by the time they are three.
What causes middle ear infections?
Middle ear infections are caused by a virus or bacteria. After a child becomes sick, usually with a cold, the middle ear becomes swollen and fluid builds up behind the eardrum. Kids get ear infections more than adults because the tubes in their middle ear are shorter and thinner making it easier for them to become blocked.
Are middle ear infections serious?
Most ear infections are not serious. Kids usually outgrow them by the age of six. However, long-lasting or recurrent ear infections can lead to hearing loss, perforated eardrums, and sinus infections. Some middle ear infections can cause a condition known as glue ear, where the thick fluid in the ear can cause temporary deafness.
Can I prevent middle ear infections?
Some kids seem are prone to ear infections, but there are a few things you can do to minimize the chance that your child will get one:
- Stop smoking – second-hand smoke is connected to ear infections.
- Breastfeed - breastfed kids have better immunity.
- Hold your baby upright if you bottle feed.
- Keep your child from getting sick whenever possible.
How do I know if my child has middle ear infections?
Ear infections hurt. Young children with a middle ear infection may tug or pull at the infected ear, and may be harder to settle to sleep, as the fluid build-up can force more pressure on the ear drum when in a lying position. Older children may complain of earache. They may also have a fever, mild hearing loss, and ear discharge.
How do I treat middle ear infections?
Give your child paracetamol for a mild ear infection to help with the fever and/or discomfort. Keep her pillow elevated to relieve pressure and encourage the fluid to drain. Severe ear infections may need antibiotics and/or ear drops. Kids with recurrent ear infections may develop glue ear and require surgery to insert drainage tubes, called grommets, to prevent permanent damage.
Should I call the doctor?
Call your doctor if your child doesn’t get better in a couple of days. Although it is not generally an emergency, you should also let your doctor know if your see pus or blood coming from your child’s ear(s) as that can signal that the eardrum has burst.
What you need to know about middle ear infections
- Middle ear infections are one of the most common childhood illnesses.
- Middle ear infections are an infection behind the eardrum.
- Young children get ear infections more often because the tubes of their middle ears are shorter and thinner than those of adults.
- Mild ear infections often resolve themselves.
- Severe ear infections may need antibiotic treatment.
Find more relevant articles and information about middle ear infections
- Read more about ear infections
- Learn more about glue ear
- Learn more about swimmers ear
- What are the common childhood infections?
Written by Rebecca Stigall for Kidspot, New Zealand’s parenting resource for family health. Sources include Better Health Channel, NSW Health and Health Insite.
Last revised: Sunday, 17 January 2010
This article contains general information only and is not intended to replace advice from a qualified health professional.