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Avoid chronic ear infections

Friday, February 17, 2023

It’s easy to think children only get ear infections in the summertime after a long day of swimming. Because they are mostly caused by bacteria, children can get an ear infection any time of the year, especially if a child has an upper respiratory infection.

Bacteria from an upper respiratory infection can spread to the middle ear (between the ear drum and inner ear) and fluid builds up behind the ear drum. This can cause mild to severe discomfort, fever, headaches, fluid draining from the ear, dizziness, or difficulty hearing. Parents of toddlers or preschoolers may notice their child tugging at their ear or a loss of appetite.

“An infection may go away on its own, but a course of antibiotics will clear it up within ten days,” said Ashtabula County Medical Center Ear, Nose, & Throat physician assistant Cheryl Katavich, PA-C. “You should see your child’s pediatrician quickly if symptoms last more than a day, if fluid drainage is pus, or is bloody, or if the ear pain is severe.”

Aside from antibiotics, the best medicine is preventing an infection in the first place.

Katavich suggested:

  • Preventing colds or other respiratory illnesses by washing hands frequently.
  • Limiting time in groups, especially where others may be sick.
  • Avoiding secondhand smoke.
  • Considering vaccinations such as seasonal flu shots, pneumonia vaccines, especially if your child has chronic bacterial infections.

For infants, she suggested breastfeeding a baby for at least six months to a year to boost antibodies that may fight off ear infections. Also, do not allow a baby to bottle-feed while laying down. Feedings should take place upright.

If ear infections continue despite preventative measures, a provider may recommend inserting ventilation tubes in the eardrum to improve air flow and prevent fluid backup in the middle ear. These are surgically placed in the ear and stay in place for six to 18 months before they fall out on their own. Another step may be to recommend the removal of the adenoids (found in the nose) to prevent infection from spreading to the eustachian tubes.

“Our primary concern is to stop the infection, because it could spread,” Katavich said. “We don’t want a recurring cycle of ear and respiratory infections. There is also concern that frequent build-up of fluid behind the ear drum could damage a child’s hearing.”

If your child does not have a pediatric provider, ACMC’s pediatricians are welcoming new patients. Schedule an appointment by calling 440-997-6980. To schedule an appointment with an ACMC Ear, Nose, and Throat specialist, please call 440-997-6960.