Otitis media (OM), commonly known as acute ear infection, is the most common cause of earache. It occurs when a fluid becomes locked in the middle ear due to allergy, or bacterial and/or viral infections (common colds). Ear infection can affect people at any age, but generally, almost 75% of the cases occur in infants under the age of 10. More precisely, it affects babies between 6 and 12 months old. Children who have a weaker immune system are more prone to ear infections than children with a strong immune system.
Why Are Children More Prone to Ear Infections?
The ear passages in children are shorter, narrower, and more horizontal than in adults and therefore it is much easier for bacteria to get to the middle ear and for the fluid to get locked in that area. Moreover, the children`s immune system is not completely/fully developed and therefore it is more difficult for it to fight infections.
Signs and Symptoms of Ear Infection
- Earache, ranging from mild to severe, particularly when the infant is lying down
- Frequent pulling or tugging at an ear
- Sleep problems
- Unusual drainage of fluid from the ear, which is thick, yellow and sometimes bloody
- Crying more intensively than usual
- Fever of 38oC (100oF) or higher
- Balance problems
- Loss of appetite
- Drainage of fluid from the ear
- Reduced hearing
Are Antibiotics Necessary?
Generally, ear infections are caused by a virus and therefore doctors recommend treatments which only include relieving of the symptoms. However, it is very difficult for the doctors to determine whether the infection is caused by a virus or bacteria.
The American Academy of Pediatrics and the American Academy of Family Physicians suggests a wait-and-see method for infants 6 to 23 months old, who have mild earache in one ear which lasts not longer than 48 hours and temperature lower than 39oC (102.2 F), and children 24 months or older who have mild earache in one or both ears which lasts less than 48 hours, and temperature lower than 39oC (102.2 F).
However, the proper treatment in children depends on the severity of the symptoms and the child`s age.
There was a fierce debate held in the 1990`s about using antibiotics in threating ear infections since the number of antibiotic-resistant bacteria was growing. The treatment without antibiotics has been proved as efficient by a couple of studies. However, there are many U.S. doctors who are worried about the treatment without antibiotics since the bacteria which thrive inside the middle ear can start multiplying uncontrollably which can lead to more serious consequences, including hearing impairment or mastoiditis. Because of this reason, U.S. doctors tend to prescribe antibiotics for all ear infections.