Most children will experience ear infection symptoms at least once during their childhood. The majority will suffer three or four before adulthood. At the first sign of ear infection, parents generally rush their kids to the pediatrician for diagnosis and treatment. The most common treatment for ear infections is a series of antibiotics given over seven to ten days.
However with the recent growing concern over antibiotic-resistant bacteria, many parents are hesitant to dole out antibiotics over common and minor childhood illnesses. The purpose of this article is to discuss the causes of ear infections symptoms, why they are so common during childhood and alternatives to antibiotics for treatment.
Bacteria that get trapped in the tube between the nose and the ears, called the Eustachian, are the basic cause for ear infections. The reason ear infections are more common in children is that the Eustachian is much shorter, thereby allowing more chance for blockage and bacteria to travel into the ear from the nose.
Ten years ago, antibiotics were prescribed for almost every ear infection leading to an increase in the resistance of bacteria to some antibiotics. This means that doctors are forced to prescribe stronger and stronger antibiotics to treat the same types of infections – obviously not a desired situation. The fact is mild ear infections will go away on their own after about a week. While severe ear infections should still be treated with antibiotics but for most others, simple over the counter pain reliever will provide comfort until the infection clears up. If OTC pain medication doesn’t work, your pediatrician may prescribe pain medication.
There are several home remedies that are suggested for dealing with the pain and discomfort associated with ear infections. Warmth has long been considered an effective pain treatment. A hot water bottle (not too hot, especially for young children) may be used or the traditional old home recipe of a heated bag of salt. A liquid herbal remedy, tea tree oil, has also proven to have some pain relieving properties. A few drops directly into the ear is generally enough to provide comfort. Be careful when using tea tree oil, however, as it has also been known to irritate the skin in some cases. If your child has sensitive skin, I would avoid using tea tree oil.
Two well-known treatments that should never be used are smoke and candles. There is no evidence to show that heated ear candles help remove wax, relieve pain or help cure an ear infection. Smoke should never be blown into the ear in an effort to relieve pain, it hasn’t been proven to work and smoke near a sick child can irritate the Eustachian and make the infection worse.
While the vast majority of ear infections do clear up on their own sometimes antibiotics are necessary. If, after four or five days, the ear infection is still causing severe pain, is accompanied by a fever, or seems to be causing balance problems you should see a doctor immediately. When antibiotics are used infrequently and only when really needed, the chance of increased resistance is low.