Ear infections are among the most common illnesses of early childhood. Three out of four children have had at least one ear infection by age 3, according to the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders.
What is it?
The medical term for middle ear infections is otitis media. Otitis refers to inflammation of the ear, and media means middle.
Although ear infections worry parents and make children uncomfortable, take heart. Most ear infections clear up on their own within a few days, and most children stop having ear infections once they reach school age.
What causes it?
Ear infections usually start with a viral infection, such as a cold. The middle ear becomes inflamed from the infection, and fluid builds up behind the eardrum.
Ear infections also can be associated with dysfunction or swelling within the eustachian tubes — the narrow passageways that connect the middle ear to the nose. Normally these tubes equalize pressure inside and outside the ear. But a child's eustachian tubes are narrower and shorter than those of an adult. This makes it easier for fluid to get trapped in the middle ear when the eustachian tubes dysfunction or become blocked during a cold.
Another factor in ear infections is swelling of the adenoids. These are tissues located in the upper throat near the eustachian tubes. Adenoids contain lymphocytes — cells that normally fight infection. But sometimes the adenoids themselves get infected or enlarged, blocking the eustachian tubes. Infection in the adenoids can also spread to the eustachian tubes.
In addition, children don't have fully developed immune systems. So it's easier for them to develop many illnesses, including colds and ear infections.
What are the symptoms?
Children will commonly display symptoms such as:
- Irritability, restlessness.
- Tugging at the ear.
- Crying at night when lying down.
- Nasal discharge.
- Suppressed appetite.
Adult symptoms include:
- Earache and/or a feeling of fullness in the ear.
- Fever and chills.
- Nasal congestion.
- Nausea and diarrhoea.
- Muffled hearing.
Are there any natural therapies?
Taking a Garlic supplement will help to dry up the mucus in the nose, sinuses and ear, and may help to relieve the pressure of ear infection. If you or your child are having recurrent ear infections, supplement with vitamins A and C, zing and echinacea to boost the body's resistance.
What else can I do?
Holding a warm compress over the ear may help to reduce the pain and discomfort of ear infections.