An earache, called otitis media, is an infection in the middle ear (between the eardrum and auditory tube, which links the middle ear to the back of the nose). This area contains nerves and small bones for hearing. Earaches can affect people of any age but are most common in babies and children. Three fourths of children get earaches. Infection occurs when germs causing colds, sore throats, and flu spread and cause inflammation (irritation, swelling, redness) of the eardrum and area around it.
Causes include viruses, bacteria, allergies, and rupture of the eardrum. Allergies cause blockage of sinuses and eustachian tubes.
Usual symptoms or behaviors include fever, sleeping problems, irritability, pulling on the ears, fluid coming out of ears, loss of hearing and balance, headache, waking in the middle of the night crying in severe pain, and dizziness.
The health care provider will look into the child’s ear with a special tool called an otoscope. This tool lets the health care provider see signs of inflammation in the middle ear. A hearing test may also be done to see if the hearing has been affected.
The health care provider may prescribe an oral antibiotic that kills bacteria (such as penicillin) and pain relievers (such as acetaminophen). Eardrops containing an antibiotic and maybe steroids to reduce swelling may also be used. If a virus (such as the cold or flu virus) is the cause, antibiotics cannot help. Watchful waiting may be proper for some earaches.
Resting is suggested until fever and pain leave. No special diet is needed, but drinking more fluids is important to help thin secretions.
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