Do you remember having an ear infection? Even if you don't
remember, you probably had one. Most kids have at least one middle
ear infection before they are 2 years old. These infections can
What Is a Middle Ear Infection?
Middle ear infections are one of the most common childhood
problems. Let's start by talking about infections. An
-shun) happens when
like bacteria and viruses get inside the body and cause trouble.
Germs can get into your
. The ear is divided into three parts: outer, middle, and inner.
When the germs bother your outer ear, it's called swimmer's
The middle ear is a small pocket of air behind the eardrum. You
have a middle ear infection when germs get into the middle ear and
the area fills up with fluid (or pus), which contains germ-fighting
cells. When the pus builds up, your ear starts to feel like a
balloon that is ready to pop, which can really hurt.
How Do I Get an Ear Infection?
Between your middle ear and your throat there is a passage
. The eustachian tubes (you have one on each side) keep pressure
from building up by letting air move in and out of your middle ear.
When you were young, especially before you turned 3, the eustachian
tubes were very small and less able to keep germs out.
The eustachian tubes get longer and usually work better in older
kids, but they can still cause problems. If you have
or catch a
, the eustachian tubes can get blocked up and let germs get in the
middle ear. Then the number of germs can grow inside your middle
ear and cause an infection.
You do not catch ear infections from other people, though you
might catch a cold that then leads to an ear infection. If you have
an ear infection, you might have ear pain, a fever, or trouble
hearing. If you have any of these problems, tell your parent so he
or she can take you to the doctor.
What Does the Doctor Do?
The doctor will look into your ear with a special flashlight
-te-skope). With the otoscope, the doctor can see your
, the thin membrane between your outer and middle ear.
The doctor may use the otoscope to blow a little puff of air in
your ear. Why? To see if the air causes your eardrum to move the
way a healthy eardrum does. An infected eardrum won't move as
it should because the pus presses against it and may make it bulge.
An infection also can make the eardrum red.
If you have an ear infection, the doctor will make a decision
about what to do next. He or she might ask your parent to watch you
over the next day or two to see if you get any better. The doctor
also might suggest a pain reliever to keep you comfortable.
If bacteria are causing the problem, the doctor might
prescribe a medicine called an
-tik), which usually clears up a bacterial infection, so you'll
feel better in a few days.
If you are given an antiobiotic, it's
to keep taking the medicine for as many days as the doctor
instructs - even if your ear stops hurting. If you don't take
all the medicine, the infection could come back and your ear will
start hurting again.
A kid who has chronic, or frequent, ear infections might need a
few other tests. They include an
-dee-uh-gram), which tests your hearing, and a
-noh-gram), a machine that checks whether your eardrum moves
How to Prevent Ear Infections
What can kids do to prevent ear infections? You can avoid places
where people are smoking, for one.
can keep your eustachian tubes from working properly.
You also can try not to catch colds. These steps can help:
- Stay away from people who have colds, if possible.
- Wash your hands regularly.
- Try not to touch your nose and eyes.
Good luck staying clear of colds and keeping those pesky germs
out of your ears!
Steven Dowshen, MD
Date reviewed: May 2008
Note: All information is for educational purposes only. For specific medical advice,
diagnoses, and treatment, consult your doctor.
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