Recently parents have been asking me an earful of questions about why their children get ear infections and if anything can be done to prevent them. Hear me out on this topic as I provide some guidelines from the American Academy of Pediatrics regarding treatment of ear infections.
More than half, if not three quarters, of ear infections in children are caused by viral germs. These infections get better simply with tincture of time. Ear infections caused by bacteria do need treatment with an antibiotic, but since these are in the minority as a cause, the American Academy of Pediatrics now suggests not treating ear infections in children over 6 months of age automatically with an antibiotic. Instead, the recommendation is to treat the pain for the first day or two with acetaminophen or ibuprofen with the hope that the virus causing the infection will be defeated by the child’s own natural immune system.
If the ear pain and discomfort persists after 48 hours despite good pain control, then antibiotics might be considered. This delay in treating ear infections with antibiotics is to avoid overuse of antibiotics, which can make the bacterial germs more resistant to common antibiotics and thus more difficult to treat.
Of course, the best way to deal with an ear infection is not to let one happen. So what can we do to prevent them? The best way to do this is to teach your children good hand washing to prevent the spread of germs from one person to another. In addition, breastfeeding your baby for at least the first six months and making sure their immunizations are up to date decreases the risk of ear infections. Keeping children away from environmental tobacco smoke will also make it easier for viruses to not get stuck in the nose, move up into the ear canal and cause an infection.
Hopefully tips like this (and I don’t mean Q-Tips) will give you more than an earful of information when it comes to better understanding your child’s ear infection.
Lewis First, MD, is chief of Pediatrics at The University of Vermont Children’s Hospital and chair of the Department of Pediatrics at the Larner College of Medicine at UVM. You can also catch “First with Kids” weekly on WOKO 98.9FM and WPTZ Channel 5, or visit the First with Kids video archives at www.UVMHealth.org/MedCenterFirstWithKids.