Ear Infections

Ear Infections Specialist
As a Board Certified Pediatric ENT Specialist, Dr. Manali Amin specializes in Otolaryngology- Head and Neck Surgery. She serves the residents of Naperville, Illinois and nearby communities.

Ear Infections Q & A

by Manali Amin, MD

Are all ear infections the same?

No. There are two types of ear infections.  The first type, otitis media, is the one that is most commonly thought of as an ear infection. It typically affects the ear drum and the space behind the ear drum known as the middle ear space. The other type of ear infection, known as otitis externa, is also commonly known as a “swimmer’s ear.”

Can I get a swimmer’s ear without swimming?

Yes. A swimmer’s ear, also known as otitis externa, is an infection of the skin in the ear canal.  Water that enters the ear from showers or baths can also result in otitis externa. Individuals who wear hearing aids or use ear buds to listen to music may also get a swimmer’s ear infection from trapping perspiration/moisture in the ear canal. Signs and symptoms of a swimmer’s ear include pain on touching the ear, swelling of the ear canal and drainage from the ear that can be bloody or appear similar to a runny nose.  

Are Ear Infections which affect the middle ear and ear drum (otitis media) serious?

Otitis media, those infections involving the middle ear, can range from very mild to severe. If a child begins to complain of ear pain and the cause is not identified, it can lead to other potential health problems. Ear infections can be an extension of a head cold, sinus infection, or other respiratory infection that has spread. If left untreated, an ear infection can lead to a perforated ear drum, partial hearing loss, paralysis of the facial nerve, mastoiditis (an infection in the bone behind the ear) and possibly meningitis. With an ear examination, doctors can accurately diagnose an ear infection and prescribe an effective treatment that will help control the infection and prevent further damage.

What are the symptoms of an ear infection?

Symptoms of an ear infection will vary from child to child. Sometimes a child pulling on his or her ear can be an indicator of discomfort or pain. However, this is not always a reliable sign of an ear infection. Pain, redness of the ear drum, loss of appetite, poor/restless sleep and a low­grade fever are common signs that an infection may be present. Lymph nodes located behind the ear and along the side of the neck can indicate an ear infection or an upper respiratory infection. A doctor will use an otoscope to look inside the ear canal. Redness or inflammation of the ear drum with fluid in space behind the ear drum (middle ear) can be a direct indicator of an infection.

How are Ear Infections Treated?

In the past, ear infections were treated primarily with antibiotics. Today, with concerns of antibiotic­resistant infections, many doctors are treating ear infections, sinus infections, and other upper respiratory infections with watchful waiting and supportive care. Medications that help to reduce inflammation and support the immune system may be helpful in select situations.   When a child has had recurrent infections associated with fluid in the ears and/or fluid in the ears which persists for 3 months or more, surgery to place ear tubes may be recommended.  

Can I prevent my child from getting ear infections?

Independent risk factors for developing ear infections include: daycare settings with 6 or more children, children exposed to second hand smoke and those children who lay flat while drinking from a bottle. These are risk factors that you may be able to modify. Other factors such as a genetic predisposition to recurrent ear infections may not be modified. A factor which can help prevent ear infections in children is breast feeding.  

When is Surgery Recommended for Ear Infections?

Surgically placing a small tube in the ear drum may be recommended in those children who have recurring ear infections, ear infections which do not respond well to antibiotics, or for fluid which persists for 3 or more months. There are many factors taken into account when surgery is recommended including hearing loss from fluid, speech/language delays, and allergies and side effects experienced from taking antibiotics.

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