Some children tend to get a lot of ear infections; others are fortunate never to get one. There are two main types of ear infections — otitis externa and otitis media. Otitis externa is an inflammation of the outer ear. Infections of the middle ear are called otitis media, inflammation of the middle ear.
Evaluation of Ear Infections
If your child is an infant, has never had an ear infection, seems seriously ill, or has tubes in her ears, consult with a health care professional. However, if your child has had ear infections in the past, seems mildly ill, or is old enough to clearly tell you how he feels, you may want to check his ears yourself. Look at your child. Does he have a fever? Does he have a sore throat? How is he acting? Is he playing and energetic? Is he eating or drinking enough? How do his ears look? Are they swollen? Is there drainage? Are the glands near the ear sore? Is there any redness?
Using an Otoscope
If your child has repeated ear infections, you may want to consider purchasing an inexpensive otoscope from a pharmacy. An otoscope is simple to use. Ask your health care provider for specific instructions.
Here is the basic process of examining ears with an otoscope. First of all, wash your hands and tell your child what you are going to do if he is old enough to understand. If he isn’t, you may want to enlist the help of someone so that the child sits or lies still during the exam. During the exam, gently pull your child’s earlobe forward and down in order to straighten the ear canal. If you are checking the ears of a teen or adult, pull up and back.
If you can’t see in, it may be that the canal is occluded by wax. Gently clean the wax from the ear canal with a cloth or by using a cotton swab around the edges. Do not insert a cotton swab into the ear canal itself.
If you see any pus, yellow drainage, brown drainage or blood from the ear or in the ear canal, stop the exam and consult a health care professional. It is possible that an infection has caused the eardrum to rupture or an external ear infection may be present.
If the canal is clean, you will be able to easily visualize the eardrum. A healthy eardrum looks shiny and translucent. It is silver and flat.
“Swimmer’s ear” is another name for otitis externa. Signs of swimmers ear include itchiness, swelling and redness of the outer ear. Sometimes hearing is slightly diminished temporarily. The lymph nodes near the ear may be enlarged and tender. Using the otoscope, you may see yellow drainage. The sides of the ear canal may be red, tender and swollen.
Prevent swimmer’s ear by putting a couple of drops of rubbing alcohol in the ears after swimming. Some people prefer to use white vinegar instead of alcohol.
Children are prone to getting otitis media, due to the tiny size and shape of their ear canals. Fortunately, most children outgrow ear infections. Meanwhile, bouts of otitis media can be very painful and result in much suffering for a child. Suspect a middle ear infection if your child suddenly awakens around 1 in the morning, screaming and rubbing an ear. The ear may be hot to touch. Carefully examine your child’s ear with the otoscope. An infected eardrum appears bright red and bulging. Some children have blood or pus drain from the ear when they have an infection. If you see a dark spot or a hole in the drum, it means that the drum has perforated. Seek professional help.
Many children have tubes placed in their ears if they have repeated ear infections. If your child has tubes, check with your health care provider before examining her ears with an otoscope. Children who have allergies often suffer from ear infections. Start keeping a diary to see if you can link the occurrence of infections with specific environmental exposures or foods.
If you are positive that your child does not have a perforated eardrum and does not have tubes in her ears, mullein ear oil may relieve the pain of the infection. Apply a couple of drops of slightly warmed oil directly to the ear canal with a dropper. Warm the oil by placing the bottle of oil in a cup of warm water for a few minutes prior to use.
If your child is old enough not to eat cotton balls, you may want to place one at the opening of the canal. Older children may find a warm compress to the ear quite soothing. I like to add a drop of lavender oil to a warm compress. The lavender reduces pain and soothes the child.
If your child develops additional symptoms or symptoms do not resolve quickly, consult with a health care professional. Additional treatment may be needed to relieve pain and facilitate healing.