Is Your Infant or Child at Risk for Ear Infection?
Question: ______________ is a risk factor for ear infections in infants.
- A. Diarrhea
- B. Bottlefeeding
- C. Premature birth
- C. Being first born
Middle ear inflammation is also called otitis media. Otitis media is inflammation of the middle ear; however, many doctors consider otitis media to be either inflammation or infection of the middle ear, the area inside the ear drum (tympanic membrane - see illustration). "Otitis" means inflammation of the ear, and "media" means middle. This inflammation often begins with infections that cause sore throats, colds or other respiratory problems, and spreads to the middle ear. Infections can be caused by viruses or bacteria, and can be acute or chronic. Both ears can be infected at the same time (double ear infection). These infections are not "swimmers ear" (also termed otitis externa or outer ear infection because it occurs in the ear canal up to the ear drum), but not beyond. However, some people can have swimmer's ear and a middle ear infection at the same time.
Acute middle ear infections usually are of rapid onset and short duration. They typically are associated with fluid accumulation in the middle ear together with signs or symptoms of infections in the ear in addition to a bulging eardrum usually accompanied by pain or a perforated eardrum, often with drainage of purulent material (pus, also termed suppurative otitis media). The person also may have a fever.
Chronic middle ear infections are a persistent inflammation of the middle ear, typically for a minimum of three months. This is in distinction to an acute ear infection that usually lasts only several weeks. Following an acute infection, fluid (an effusion) may remain behind the ear drum (tympanic membrane) for up to three months before resolving. It may develop after a prolonged period of time with fluid (effusion) or negative pressure behind the eardrum (tympanic membrane). This type of infection can cause ongoing damage to the middle ear and eardrum, and there may be continuing drainage through a hole in the eardrum. Chronic middle ear infections often starts painlessly without fever. Ear pressure or popping can be persistent for months. Sometimes a subtle loss of hearing can be due to chronic middle ear infections.
Question: ______________ is a risk factor for ear infections in infants.
Signs and symptoms of middle ear infections in babies, toddlers, and children may include:
This type of infection is an extremely common diagnosis. In the U.S. it is estimated that 75% of all children experience at least one middle ear infection before the age of three.
Ear infections are not contagious. However, many children develop infections following a cold or other viral infection, and those infections are contagious.
The Eustachian tube, a canal that runs from the middle ear to the back of the nose and throat, is shorter and more horizontal in infants and young children than in older children and adults. This allows easier entry into the middle ear for the microorganisms that cause infection and lead to otitis media. Young children also have more immature immune systems. The result is that infants and young children are at greater risk of acquiring ear infections than adults.
Bacteria and viruses can cause middle ear infections. Bacteria such as Streptococcus pneumoniae (pneumococcus), Hemophilus influenzae, Pseudomonas, and Moraxella account for about 85% of cases of acute otitis media. Viruses account for the remaining 15%. Affected infants under six weeks of age tend to have infections from a variety of different bacteria in the middle ear.
As a person ages, the Eustachian tube doubles in length and becomes more vertically positioned so that the nasopharyngeal orifice (opening) in the adult, is significantly below the tympanic orifice (the opening in the middle ear near the ear drum) than in a child. The greater length and particularly the slope of the tube as it grows serves more effectively to protect, aerate and drain the middle ear.
The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) and the American Academy of Family Physicians (AAFP) have determined the criteria which are needed to diagnose acute otitis media (AOM); acute onset, middle ear effusion (MEE), and middle ear inflammation. The new guidelines describe this as "moderate to severe bulging of the tympanic membrane (ear drum) or new onset of otorrhea (ear drainage) not due to external otitis (inflammation of the ear canal) or mild bulging of the ear drum, and recent ear pain (holding, tugging, rubbing ear in a nonverbal child) or intense reddening of the ear drum." The guideline also strongly recommends that clinicians should not diagnose AOM without the presence of MEE. Recurrent acute otitis media is defined as at least three well-documented and separate acute otitis media episodes in 6 months or 4 well-documented and separate AOM episodes in the past 12 months with at least 1 in the past 6 months. There is no definitive lab test for acute otitis media.
Identification of the three criteria is dependent on clinical observation; middle ear effusion and middle ear inflammation are the most difficult to observe and as a consequence there are studies that suggest acute otitis media is over diagnosed. One method that helps determine acute otitis media versus otitis media with effusion is pneumatic otoscopy (the normal eardrum moves readily with pressure changes) and the appearance of the tympanic membrane (acute otitis media has abnormal appearance, otitis media with effusion does not). However, not everyone is skilled at this technique; Pediatricians, Family Practice, ENT specialists, and ER doctors that work in pediatric ER's are likely to be skilled in the diagnostic procedure.
The treatment for acute otitis media varies depending upon the age and symptoms of the child. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) and the American Academy of Family Physicians (AAFP) recommend the following:
(Otorrhea with AOM or Unilateral or
Bilateral AOM with Severe Symptoms)
(Bilateral AOM without Otorrhea)
(Unilateral AOM without Otorrhea)
|6 months-23 months||Antibiotics||Antibiotics if severe illness;|
*Observation without antibiotics if non-severe illness
|> 2 years||Antibiotics||Antibiotics if severe illness;|
*Observation if non-severe illness
|Antibiotics if severe illness;|
*Observation without if non-severe illness
*Observation is an appropriate option only when follow-up can be ensured and antibacterial agents can be started if symptoms persist or worsen within 2-3 days. The guidelines also recommend "shared decision making" with the caregiver. Non-severe illness is represented by mild ear pain and fever <39 C (102.2 F) in the past 24 hours. Severe illness is defined as moderate to severe otalgia (ear pain) or any ear pain for at least 48 hours or fever 39 C. These 2013 guidelines are current.
If antibiotics are initiated, amoxicillin is usually recommended as the first line treatment. This is usually prescribed for 10 days. About 10% of children do not respond within the first 48-72 hours of treatment, and antibiotic therapy may have to be changed. Even after antibiotic treatment, some children are left with some fluid in the middle ear which can cause temporary hearing loss lasting for up to 3 to 6 weeks. In most children, this fluid eventually disappears spontaneously (on its own). Ceftriaxone (50mg/kg/d) injection is recommended for children that cannot take oral antibiotics; three days of this antibiotic is usually more effective than a single injection.
Children who have recurring bouts of otitis media may be referred to an otolaryngologist (ear nose and throat specialist or ENT). Some of these children may benefit from having an ear tube placed (tympanostomy tube) to permit fluid to drain from the middle ear. In addition, if a child has a bulging eardrum and is experiencing severe pain, a procedure to lance the eardrum (myringotomy) may be recommended to release the pus. The eardrum usually heals within a week. Prophylactic antibiotic therapy has not been shown to decrease the frequency of ear infections in those children with recurrent AOM.
Although treatment may cure an ear infection, it is possible for the ear to become re-infected.
Although there are a number of suggested home remedies for the treatment of ear infections, including humidified air, homeopathic treatments, naturopathic ear drops, decongestants, and antihistamines; there are limited studies suggesting the benefits of these measures over accepted and recommended treatments. Both oral and topical analgesics are effective in controlling the pain associated with ear infections, but the use of decongestants or antihistamines has not been demonstrated to improve symptoms or speed the resolution of acute otitis media.
The Eustachian tube normally prevents the accumulation of fluid by allowing fluid to drain through the tube. Chronic otitis media develops over time, and often starts with a chronic middle ear effusion (fluid) that does not resolve. This persistent fluid will often become contaminated with bacteria, and the bacteria found in chronic otitis media are often different from those found in acute otitis media. Therefore, anything that disturbs the function of the Eustachian tube can lead to chronic otitis media.
In some individuals that are ill from other diseases, if there is pus draining from the ear, there is a danger that otitis media (especially bacterial-caused) may invade the mastoid bone and reach the brain. These individuals need to be seen urgently by a health-care professional. Do not delay treatment by trying home remedies.
The eardrum (tympanic membrane) has three delicate layers that help keep the eardrum thin, but strong. A chronic middle ear infection causes changes in the eardrum that weaken it, and often lead to a hole in the eardrum (tympanic membrane perforation). Eventually, the eardrum loses its strength and begins to collapse into the middle ear space.
When the eardrum collapses or retracts from negative pressure in the middle ear, it can attach to the other middle ear structures. It is frequently seen draped around the middle ear bones (ossicles) or the inner wall of the middle ear (promontory). This disrupts the conduction of sound through the middle ear, and may diminish hearing.
A hole that forms in the eardrum (tympanic membrane perforation) usually causes a chronic draining ear, or a condition called chronic otitis media with perforation. Often the drainage (otorrhea) will have a foul odor and can be seen draining from the ear. Hearing can improve after the middle ear fluid is released, or it may worsen secondary to the inflammation in the middle ear.
Initially, antibiotics may resolve the ear infection. If a tympanic membrane perforation also is present, topical antibiotic drops may be used. If eardrum or ossicle scarring has occurred, that will not be reversed with antibiotics alone. Surgery often is indicated to repair the tympanic membrane (eardrum), remove the infected tissue and scar from the middle ear and the mastoid bone. Long-term prophylactic antibiotics are not recommended.
The goals of surgery are to first remove all of the infected tissue so that it can be "safe" from recurrent infections. The second goal is to recreate a middle ear space with an intact eardrum. Finally, hearing is to be restored. This may seem strange that hearing is the last priority, but if the first two priorities are not met, anything that is done to improve hearing will ultimately fail. If hearing is restored, but the infection returns, the hearing will be lost again. Likewise, if hearing is restored, but the middle ear space is not recreated, the eardrum will re-stick to the middle ear or the ossicles.
Serous otitis media is inflammation in the middle ear without infection. Typically, the Eustachian tube is not functioning and cannot ventilate the ear normally. As a result, fluid accumulates in the middle-ear. This can lead to a dullness or fullness within the ear along with diminished hearing.
The majority of children and adults are diagnosed and treated by either pediatricians, primary health care doctors, emergency or urgent care medical providers, or other health care professionals. ENT specialists may be consulted for some individuals. Rarely, a neurologist or neurosurgeon may be needed if a severe infection that may extend to other organ systems occur.
Otitis media is not contagious (although the initial cold that caused it may be). A child with otitis media can travel by airplane but, if the Eustachian tube is not working well, the pressure change as the plane descends may cause the child pain. It is best not to fly (or swim) with a draining ear. You should always consult your physician if you have specific concerns.
Currently the best way to prevent acute otitis media is to assure a child is vaccinated. Ensuring that your child receives an annual flu vaccine and is up to date with his/her pneumococcal vaccine is the best way to prevent the most common causes of middle ear infections (otitis media). In addition both early and sustained breastfeeding (for at least 6 months) and avoidance of tobacco spoke exposure have been shown to be related to fewer ear infections. Recent studies suggest that Xylitol based gum or lozenges may have a preventive impact on acute otitis media. Unfortunately it cannot be used in young children, and must be used 3-5 times a day during the cold and flu season to be effective.
Coleman et al. Cochrane Database Syst Rev 2008 July 16;(3)
Donaldson, J.D., MD. "Acute Otitis Media." Medscape. Updated: May 26, 2016.
Lieberthal A et al. Clinical Practice Guideline: The Diagnosis and Management of Acute Otitis Media. Pediatrics. March 2013. 131:3.e964-e999.
Natal, B.L., MD. "Emergent Management of Acute Otitis Media." Medscape. Updated: Aug 31, 2015.
Rennie, C.E. "Pneumatic Otoscope Examination." Medscape. Updated: Feb 05, 2016.
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Tonsillitis is a contagious infection with symptoms such as:
Tonsillitis can be caused acute infection of the tonsils, and several types of bacteria or viruses (for example, strep throat or mononucleosis), chronic tonsillitis, and peritonsillar abscess. Treatment of tonsillitis and adenoids include antibiotics and other medications depending on the cause, symptom relief, and in some cases, surgery (tonsillectomy or adenoidectomy ).
The Eustachian tube is a membrane lined tube that connects the middle ear space to the back of the nose. Symptoms of Eustachian tube dysfunction or blockage include:
Cause of Eustachian tube dysfunction or blockage include:
Treatment includes home remedies to relieve pain and several maneuvers (swallowing, chewing gum, yawning etc.), which can be done to improve Eustachian tube function. In severe cases surgery may be necessary.
Swimmer's ear (external otitis) is an infection of the skin that covers the outer ear canal. Causes of swimmer's ear include excessive water exposure that leads to trapped bacteria in the ear canal. Symptoms include a feeling of fullness in the ear, itching, and ear pain. Chronic swimmer's ear may be caused by
Common treatment includes antibiotic ear drops.
An upper respiratory infection is a contagious infection of the structures of the upper respiratory tract, which includes the sinuses, nasal passages, pharynx, and larynx. Common causes of an upper respiratory infection include bacteria and viruses such as rhinoviruses, group A streptococci, influenza, respiratory syncytial, whooping cough, diphtheria, and Epstein-Barre. Examples of symptoms of upper respiratory infection include:
Treatment of upper respiratory infections are based upon the cause. Generally, viral infections are treated symptomatically with over-the-counter (OTC) medication and home remedies.