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Ear Infections (Otitis Media)

Ear infections are common in young children. Most kids will get at least one infection before they turn three years of age. An ear infection is caused by inflammation or swelling in the middle ear. 

What are the symptoms of ear infections?
An ear infection usually follows a cold, and it is easy to mistake one for the other because they share many of the same symptoms. In addition, both infections can make your child seem very sick with high fever, lack of energy, and loss of appetite. But unlike colds, ear infections are caused by bacteria. This means that ear infections can be treated with antibiotics. Unlike colds, ear infections cause earaches. Older children can tell you if they have an earache. Young children and infants may simply become irritable and fussy.

How are ear infections treated?
If your child is older than 6 months of age with mild signs and symptoms a physician may recommend they be watched for 2-3 days without using antibiotics. The physician may instruct parents to use acetaminophen or ibuprofen during this time. If child doesn’t improve in 2-3 days they should be seen by their physician for assessment and to start antibiotics. 
Children that are younger than 6 months of age, children that have severe symptoms or children that have high risk conditions should be treated with antibiotics prescribed by their physician.

There are several different antibiotics that work equally well. The antibiotic should make your child feel better within 2 or 3 days. However, in order to cure the infection, it is very important to give your child the entire antibiotic that has been prescribed. The physician may also recommend a painkiller (for example, acetaminophen) to relieve discomfort from the earache.

Complications of ear infections
Repeated ear infections can be linked to hearing loss or difficulties in children, and speech and learning can be affected. If your child is prone to ear infections you should talk to a health care provider to see whether a hearing assessment is needed. The earlier hearing problems are identified, the better. 

In some children, the ear infection causes fluid to collect in the middle ear. The fluid may last for as long as three months. Children with this will not have a fever or an earache (usual signs of an ear infection) but their hearing may be affected. Most will get better without any medical treatment. Others may need medication or surgery (tubes in the ears) to correct the problem.