Ear Infections 101

Expert:
Dr. Ronald Vilela, pediatric otolaryngology surgeon at Texas Children’s Hospital.


Q: What is an ear infection?

A typical ear infection is an inflammation of the middle ear. It’s one of the most common childhood infections and can occur in one ear at a time or both ears at the same time. Ear infections are more common during cold and flu season.

Q: What are the causes of ear infections?

Many situations can contribute to developing an ear infection. A middle ear infection can be caused by infection of fluid behind the eardrum, secondary to a viral or bacterial upper respiratory infection or uncontrolled allergies.

Texas Children’s Hospital West Campus.
Photo by A. Kramer

Q: What are some of the symptoms parents should look for in their children?

Symptoms can include ear pain, ear drainage, fever, irritability, sleeplessness, poor appetite, cough and nasal discharge. Children who aren’t old enough to speak might be fussier or seem to have trouble hearing or responding to quiet sounds. Tugging on the ears is not a reliable symptom to help your doctor lead to the diagnosis of an ear infection.

Q: How are ear infections treated?

Some infections might clear on their own with close follow-up. Antibiotics are typically used to treat ear infections. If your child has reoccurring ear infections, they might be a candidate for ear tubes.

Q: How can you soothe a child with ear infections?

Acetaminophen or ibuprofen can help to soothe a child with an ear infection. Sometimes, your doctor may prescribe a numbing ear drop for temporary relief.

Q: If children have frequent ear infections, what damage could this cause?

Frequent ear infections could lead to decreased sensitivity of bacteria to antibiotics if frequent rounds of antibiotics are used, making infections in the future more difficult to treat. Hearing loss is a rare but potentially permanent residual of frequent ear infections.

Q: How can ear infections be prevented?

Maintaining adequate hygiene and trying to keep the nose as healthy as possible are the best ways to prevent ear infections. Using nasal saline mist or spray daily can help to prevent an upper respiratory infection or allergies from leading to ear fluid or an infection. To learn more about the otolaryngology department at Texas Children’s Hospital West Campus, call 832-227-1420.