You may find it interesting to know that the ear is made up of 3 parts:
- The outer ear includes the ear lobe (pinna) and ear canal which helps collect and direct sound into the inner part of the ear.
- The middle ear is separated from the outer ear by an ear drum .The middle ear is an air filled space with three small bones that help convert sound waves into mechanical vibration that the inner ear can interpret. The air pressure in the middle is maintained by a tube called the Eustachian tube that opens in the throat. The Eustachian tube is what creates a lot of problems especially in children when it gets blocked.
- The inner ear is what helps the brain to interpret sound outside. The inner ear also helps us with maintaining balance.
The middle ear is what regularly gets infected and the infection is called Acute Otitis Media. It is a very common infection amongst children and most common reason take parents to the Doctor.
Acute Otitis Media is caused both by viruses and bacteria. Usually the root cause of the infection arises from a blocked Eustachian tube. One this tube blocks there is a buildup of fluid in the middle ear which gets infected also making the ear drum get infected. The result is ear pain.
The tube can get blocked due to allergies, colds and flus that affect the throat, irritants like cigarette smoke and overgrown adenoids. If your child has overgrown adenoids then they are likely to get middle ear infections though the mechanism is not fully understood.
Infants who are unable to communicate will often be irritable, cry a lot ,have a fever, keep touching their ear or even vomit.
There may be some yellowish fluid that will come from the ear. This suggests the ear drum has ruptured.
- If your child is less than 6 months old and has a fever you need to take them to the hospital.
- If your child is older and the symptoms are mild, try using pain killers like paracetamol and ibuprofen.
- If the symptoms do no improve within 24 hours then you can take them to the hospital. If your child looks unwell, do not take chances, take them to hospital.
Acute Otitis Media per se is not contagious. However colds and flus that may trigger it, are contagious and need to be prevented through:
- Proper hand washing using soap and water after blowing your nose, sneezing or coughing.
- Frequent washing of toys that are shared.
- Breastfeed for as long as possible as breast feeding leads a child to have less infections like AOM
- Avoid smoking around children as the smoke can irritate the Eustachian tube which can trigger AOM
- Ensure your child is vaccinated against the pneumococcal vaccine. This vaccine is Free in Kenya and helps prevent AOM that is caused by the same bacteria that causes pneumonia.
- Do not use antibiotics unless prescribed by a Doctor.
- When sick with the flu it is best to stay away from places of work and school thus avoiding its spread. Avoid close contact with people who are sick.
- Cover your nose and mouth when coughing or sneezing. Preferably use tissue or a handkerchief. Make sure the tissue is well disposed and the handkerchief washed using hot water or disinfectant.
- Ensure your immune system is strong by eating well, sleeping adequately, manage stress and exercise regularly.
If a child gets frequent middle ear infections and they have symptoms of enlarged adenoids then they need to consult an ENT surgeon. Depending on the severity of the effects of the enlarged adenoids, the surgeon may consider removing them. The result is that the middle ear infections will reduce.