the Season for Ear Infections
By Sally Robinson, M.D. and Keith P. Bly, M.D.
the chilly weather, germs--not falling temperatures--are a parent's
worst enemy. Now through March is the most common season for middle
ear infections, also known as otitis media.
Middle ear infections are caused by a functional breakdown of a
narrow tube, called the eustachian tube, that passes from the back
of the throat up into the middle of the ear. When working properly,
the eustachian tube allows excess fluid to drain from the middle
ear to the throat, keeps air pressure equalized on both sides of
the eardrum, and protects the middle ear from germs.
"After a cold, allergy attack or sinus infection, bacteria
from the nose or throat can travel through the eustachian tube to
the middle ear," said Dr. David McCormick, who has done extensive
research on otitis media. "If the tube becomes blocked, fluid
builds up in the middle ear cavity and may become infected if bacteria
Symptoms of middle ear infection include pain, fever and irritability.
Children too young to describe their earaches may tug at or rub
their ears. A course of antibiotics is usually recommended as treatment
for the infection. However, physicians need to use caution when
prescribing antibiotics for ear infections and many other illnesses
as overuse of antibiotics has lead to bacterial resistance. "Instead,
a body of research suggests that doctors use antibiotics only if
the child has clear-cut signs and symptoms of a bacterial ear infection,"
said McCormick, professor of pediatrics at UTMB.
Parents can take these steps to help avoid ear infections:
· Breast-feed your baby, if possible. Infants who nurse exclusively
for at least first six months of life have less than half as many
ear infections as formula-fed babies.
· Keep your baby child upright while feeding, and never put
your baby to bed with a bottle. Liquid can back up into the eustachian
tube, creating a breeding ground for bacteria.
· Use caution when selecting a day-care center for your child.
Keep in mind that infections spread easily among large groups of
children. You may want to consider a program with fewer than five
· If your child attends day-care, he or she should receive
a flu vaccine in the fall before the flu season. This vaccine is
available to children as young as 6 months and can prevent some
ear infections, which often occur after having the flu.
· Never smoke around a child.
"Numerous parents of children who seek treatment at UTMB are
breast-feeding exclusively and are following the other simple recommendations
to prevent ear infections," said McCormick. "And many
of their babies are healthy now, experiencing few ear infections."
Sally Robinson is Professor of Pediatrics, and Dr. Keith Bly is
Assistant Professor of Pediatrics at the University of Texas Medical
Branch at Galveston Children's Hospital. For more information, visit:
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advice and services from a qualified healthcare provider familiar
with your unique circumstances. Always seek the advice of your physician
or other qualified healthcare professional regarding any medical
condition and before starting any new treatment.