The ear is made up of three sections: the outer ear, middle ear and inner ear. Each of these areas is susceptible to infections, which can be painful. Young children have a greater tendency to get earaches. While most ear pain resolves itself in a matter of days, you should get a physical examination to understand the type of infection, prevent it from spreading and obtain treatment to help alleviate the pain.
Outer Ear Infection (Otitis Externa)
Also known as Swimmer's Ear, outer ear infections result from an inflammation, often bacterial, in the outer ear. Generally, they happen when water, sand or dirt gets into the ear canal. Moisture in the air or swimming makes the ear more susceptible to this type of ear infection. Symptoms include: severe pain, itching, redness and swelling in the outer ear. There also may be some fluid drainage. Often the pain is worse when chewing or when you pull on the ear. To reduce pain and prevent other long-term effects on the ear, be sure to see a doctor. Complications from untreated otitis externa may include hearing loss, recurring ear infections and bone and cartilage damage. Typically, your doctor will prescribe eardrops that block bacterial growth. In more severe cases, your child's doctor may also prescribe an antibiotic and pain medication. Most outer ear infections resolve in seven to 10 days.
Middle Ear Infection (Otitis Media)
Middle ear infections can be caused by either bacterial or viral infection. These infections may be triggered by airborne or foodborne allergies, infections elsewhere in the body, nutritional deficiencies or a blocked Eustachian tube. In children the chances of ear infections also increase when they are in daycare (think lots of germ exposure) or they have a parent/caregiver that smokes (this causes the nose to not work as well - nose and ear are connected). In chronic cases, a thick, glue-like fluid may be discharged from the middle ear. Treatment is contingent on the cause of the infection and ranges from medication (antibiotics) to the surgical insertion of a tube to drain fluid from the middle ear or an adenoidectomy. Care of the nose is important in these cases as well - the nose is an air filter for the respiratory tract and can be helpful in preventing infections by filtering out the germs before they can take hold - using saline spray to the nose can help "clean" the nose out and let it work more efficiently.
Inner Ear Infection (Otitis Interna)
Also known as labyrinthitis, inner ear infections are most commonly caused by other infections in the body, particularly sinus, throat or tooth infections. Symptoms include dizziness, fever, nausea, vomiting, hearing loss and tinnitus. Always seek medical attention if you think your child may have an inner ear infection.