Recently, parents have been asking me an earful of questions about why their children get so many ear infections. They also ask what can be done, if anything, to prevent them.

Causes of ear infections

The majority of ear infections in children are caused by viral germs. Viral germs get better simply with time.

The rest are caused by bacteria that need an antibiotic. However, because these are in the minority as a cause, the American Academy of Pediatrics now has new suggestions. They suggest that in children over 6 months of age, we not treat mild to moderate ear infections (those with mild pain and low-grade fever) automatically with an antibiotic.

Treating ear infection pain

Instead, we should treat the pain with acetaminophen or ibuprofen. To reduce discomfort, warm compresses or an extra pillow for children who have outgrown cribs, or sitting your child up to lessen pressure in the ear may help. The hope is the viral germ will go away in a day or two. If that doesn’t happen, antibiotics might be considered.

Delaying antibiotics

This delay in using antibiotics, while we deal with the discomfort of an ear infection, is being recommended to prevent overuse of antibiotics. Overuse can make bacterial germs resistant to common antibiotics, thus more difficult to treat.

Prevention as best treatment

Of course, the best way to deal with an ear infection is not to let one happen. However, it’s no wonder children gets so many ear infections. Virus’s spread easily from child to child through coughing or direct contact. So, what can we do to prevent them?

The ideal way to do this is to teach your children good handwashing, especially if they have been around other children with colds. These children with colds can spread viral germs to your child, who can then introduce them into their nose and mouth. This is the potential start of an ear infection.

In addition, breastfeeding your baby for at least the first six months can help. Additionally, make sure their immunizations are up to date (including flu vaccinations). These preventative practices can decrease the risk of ear infections occurring. Keeping children away from environmental tobacco or even marijuana smoke will make it easier for viruses to get out of the nose so they don’t move up into the ear canal and cause an infection. However, remember neither of these should be occurring in the home with children present.

Hopefully tips like these (and I don’t mean Q-tips) will give you more than an earful of information when it comes to getting a better understanding of your child’s ear infection.

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