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Ear infections

Key points to remember about ear infections

• Ear infections are very common in young children

• They can cause pain, and often fever

• Antibiotics are not always needed

• Pain relief is important

• There may be some fluid in the space behind the ear drum (middle ear) for several weeks or months after the infection. This is normal, and usually clears up on its own

• most children outgrow ear infections and have perfect and undamaged ears and normal hearing

• if you think your child has an ear infection, take them to your family doctor

What are the signs and symptoms of an ear infection?

Older children will complain of significant ear pain and may have a fever. They may also feel unwell and complain of reduced hearing in the affected ear.

In babies and younger children, sometimes the only sign of an ear infection is a fever.

Younger children may also:

• cry and become very upset / distressed / irritable and hard to deal with

• have very disturbed sleep at the beginning of the infection

• be harder to settle to sleep

• vomit, lose interest in eating, seem to have no energy

• become “clingy” and “grizzly”

• Sometimes pus will burst through the eardrum. The pus looks like snot coming out of the ear. When the ear drum bursts, children often feel better as the pressure causing the pain is suddenly released. The burst eardrum usually heals without treatment or future problems.

How long does an ear infection last?

The pain from an ear infection comes on rapidly and doesn"t last long. It usually wears off within 24 hours. After an ear infection, your child may have fluid behind their ear drum (effusion) which can last several weeks to months. This may cause your child to have an ongoing feeling of discomfort in their ears. It is more a dull, abnormal feeling than a nasty, sharp pain. The fluid also causes a short-term decrease in hearing in that

How can I care for my child at home?

• Pain relief is important

• Propping your child"s head up with a pillow in bed may help reduce the pain

• Your child may need rest and lots of comforting / cuddles

• Keep your child home from child care or school while they are unwell or have a fever
There is no evidence that decongestant medicines (including nose sprays) and antihistamines are of any benefit in the treatment of ear infections and they can have unwanted side-effects so they should not be used

When should I seek help?

The symptoms of ear infections also occur in other illnesses; for this reason, if you suspect your child has an ear infection, take them to your family doctor. Your doctor will examine your child to see if an ear infection (or another problem) is the cause of your child"s symptoms.

Once an ear infection is diagnosed, your child should start to improve within 24 to 48 hours. If the symptoms are no better or are getting worse, or you are worried about your child, take them back to your family doctor.

You should always take your child to your family doctor to have their ears reviewed after any ear infection, to make sure the ear fluid has gone. This recheck usually happens around four to six weeks after the infection.

You should also take your child to your family doctor if:

• Your child"s ear starts to discharge

• Your child has a fever which doesn"t go away after 24 – 48 hours

• You are worried about the continuing unwellness of your child

You need to take your child to a doctor immediately if your child:

• has any swelling, redness or tenderness in or around the ear

• is feeding poorly

• has any change in consciousness

• has a stiff neck

• has sensitivity to light

If your child keeps getting frequent ear infections, they may need to see an ENT (ear, nose and throat) specialist to consider grommets (tympanostomy or ventilation tubes).

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