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Ear Infection faq's
Q: Are there different types of ear infections?
Q: Are ear infections related to colds?
Q: Are ear infections seasonal?
Q: What is a myringotomy and what is a tympanostomy?
Q: What are the signs of an ear infection in an infant?
Q: How long does it take for antibiotics to work?
Q: How do I know if an antibiotic is not working?
Q: Which children need closer observation during an ear infection?
Q: Are ear infections more common in certain racial/ethnic groups?
Q: What if fluid drains from the ear?
 
Q: Different types of ear infections?
A: Ear infections can occur in different parts of the ear and usually require different treatments. An outer ear infection (otitis externa), located in the ear canal (where wax sometimes accumulates), is often related to swimming and is usually treated with ear drops.

An infection of the middle ear (otitis media) is located behind the eardrum. Antibiotic pills are usually necessary to treat these infections. A physician can tell whether the infection involves the middle or outer ear by doing an ear examination.

Sometimes fluid accumulates behind the eardrum after a middle ear infection (ear effusion). This fluid may be hard to get rid of and may last for many months, causing muffled/decreased hearing. The fluid usually goes away eventually without treatment, although this can take time. Fluid behind the eardrum sometimes requires special treatment, however, including antibiotics or a surgical procedure (such as ear tubes) if frequent infections are a problem or if hearing is significantly affected.   Top

 
Q: Are ear infections related to colds?
A: Ear infections often follow a common cold. The viruses that cause the common cold can also cause congestion and swelling of the passages in the nose and throat. This congestion and swelling can block a structure called the eustachian tube, which drains the ear into the throat. When this tube is blocked, the ear secretions (fluids) have nowhere to drain, and they build up, creating a perfect condition for bacterial germs to grow.

Any condition that causes congestion (e.g. cold viruses, allergies, etc.) increases the chances of an ear infection.   Top

 
Q: Are ear infections seasonal?
A: Ear infections occur most frequently during the winter months when there are more colds and respiratory viruses. They also occur often during the spring and fall, and are least frequent in the summer.   Top
 
Q: What is a myringotomy and what is a tympanostomy?
A: A myringotomy is a procedure during which a tiny hole (incision) is made in the eardrum to allow drainage of fluid. This procedure may be performed when there is pus or fluid, caused by an ear infection, that has accumulated behind the eardrum. A tympanostomy is a related procedure in which a small tube is placed into the incision/hole so that the ear might continue to drain (it keeps the hole from closing).

The combination of a myringotomy and tympanostomy are often performed for patients who have frequently recurring ear infections. This procedure is commonly known as inserting ear tubes, which is a surgical procedure. The tube keeps fluid from building up behind the eardrum and protects against the growth of bacteria that cause ear infections.   Top

 
Q: What are the signs of an ear infection in an infant?
A: It can be difficult to figure out whether babies have an ear infection because they can't complain that their ears hurt. An ear infection should be considered if a baby is irritable, cranky, pulling at his or her ears, not eating normally, has no energy (seems listless), or has a fever.

It is common for babies who are 'out of sorts' to actually have an ear infection. Ask your physician to check your baby's ears if he/she is not acting normally or if you suspect that an ear infection may be present.
   Top
 
Q: How long does it take for antibiotics to work?
A: Ear infection symptoms usually improve with antibiotics within 48-72 hours and should be completely gone by the end of treatment. You should seek a physician's advice if symptoms become worse while taking antibiotics, if they fail to improve within 72 hours of taking antibiotics, or if they are not gone by the end of 10 days of antibiotics. If symptoms are not much better by 72 hours, another antibiotic drug may be necessary to treat the infection.   Top
 
Q: How do I know if an antibiotic is not working?
A: If symptoms have not improved by 72 hours after antibiotics were started or if they improve a bit and then get worse again, the bacteria responsible for the ear infection may not be able to be treated with the antibiotic. You should consult your physician to see if a stronger or different antibiotic might be needed.

Sometimes ear infection symptoms improve while on antibiotics but then come back after treatment is stopped. If this happens within approximately four to 14 days of finishing treatment, the bacteria that caused the ear infection may have only been partially treated and a different/stronger antibiotic may be necessary.   Top

 
Q: Which children need closer observation during an ear infection?
A: Some children are less likely be cured by antibiotic treatment and should be observed more closely to make sure treatment is working.

Children who are at higher risk of treatment failures include:

  • Children younger than 18 months of age
  • Children who have a history of frequently recurring ear infections (repeat infections after antibiotics are stopped)
  • Children who have a respiratory infection at the same time as an ear infection
  • Children who miss antibiotic doses.
  • Children who have other chronic diseases or are on chemotherapy.
   Top
 
Q: Are ear infections more common in certain racial/ethnic groups?
A: Native Americans (Indian and Eskimo) have very high rates of ear infections. In one study in an Apache community, 23% of the population had evidence of having had an ear infection. It is believed that Native Americans are more at risk for ear infections because they are more susceptible to one type of bacteria (Haemophilus influenzae) that often causes ear infections, even though children are now vaccinated against one common strain of these bacteria. African American children have a relatively low rate of ear infections, and Caucasian children have a risk somewhere in the middle of developing ear infections.   Top
 
Q: What if fluid drains from the ear?
A: Fluid may drain from the ear during an ear infection if the eardrum develops a hole (due to pressure from the infection). Let your physician know if this occurs so that he/she can make sure that the hole eventually closes. Holes that fail to close can affect hearing.   Top
 
 
     
NOTE: Just because a drug or combination of drugs can cause a symptom does not mean it is actually causing your symptom. Symptoms can be caused by medical conditions as well. Make sure that your physician is aware of any symptoms you are experiencing so he/she can work with you to determine the cause. Please DO NOT STOP MEDICATIONS without first consulting a physician since doing so could be hazardous to your health.
DISCLAIMER: Please note that the information DoubleCheckMD.com provides is intended to help individuals to work with their medical professionals and is for educational purposes only. It does not constitute medical or healthcare advice and serves to supplement, not substitute for, the expertise and judgment of a healthcare professional. In all cases individuals should consult with a physician before taking any action based on DoubleCheckMD feedback including, but not limited to ceasing taking any drug, changing diet or commencing or discontinuing any course of treatment. The information provided by DoubleCheckMD.com is not intended to cover all possible uses, directions, precautions, drug interactions or adverse effects, nor should it be construed to indicate that the use of a particular drug is safe, appropriate or effective.


 
 
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