Doc Talk: Ear Infections

In our weekly feature, Doc Talk we're learning more about one of the most common yet challenging childhood illnesses that send kids to the doctor's office a lot.

Pediatric emergency doctor, Clint Pollack from Valley Children's Hospital is here to talk about ear infections.

Ear infections

What is an ear infection and what kids are more prone to getting them?

- Acute infection of the middle ear with buildup of pus and pressure behind the eardrum.
- Most common in younger children, between 6-24 months old.
- Most commonly occurs as a complication from a viral Upper Respiratory Infection.

What are some risk factors that play a role?

- Risk factors include attending day care, lack of breastfeeding, exposure to tobacco smoke, pacifier use, and fall/winter season.

What causes an ear infection?

- Caused by swelling of the nose, throat, and eustachian tube (drains fluid from the ear to the nose).
- Can be caused by bacteria, viruses, or both.
- Most common bacteria are Streptococcus pneumoniae, nontypeable H. influenzae, and Moraxella catarrhalis.
- Most common viruses are respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), rhinovirus, enterovirus, coronaviruses, influenza viruses, adenoviruses, and human metapneumovirus.

What are some of the symptoms and complications that come with an ear infection?

- Most common symptoms are earache and cold symptoms, but may also include fever, irritability, headache, sleep, poor feeding/sleeping, vomiting, and diarrhea.

- Complications may include temporary hearing loss, dizziness and balance problems, ruptured eardrum, and spread to nearby structures (mastoiditis).

How are ear infections treated?

- Treatment includes pain medicine such as Tylenol or Motrin and may include antibiotics.
- Antibiotics should be used for children less than 2 years-old and very ill children with more severe symptoms.
- Children over 2 years-old with milder symptoms should wait 2-3 days before starting antibiotics, as many milder ear infections will resolve without antibiotics.
- Amoxicillin, Augmentin, or azithromycin are most commonly used for 5-10 days.
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