When young children get colds, one of the possible after-effects, once the cold is gone, can be an ear infection. To understand what causes them, you have to first understand the anatomy of a child’s ear. The inner ear is connected to the back of the throat by a small tube called the auditory tube. This tube is important because it is this tube that allows debris and fluid to pass through the ear, and into the back of the throat. When this tube becomes clogged or otherwise blocked, fluid and debris become trapped within the middle ear, and will cause an infection.
Types of Ear Infections
Otitis Media: The most common type of ear infection, otitis media, causes the auditory tube to become blocked and the tissues inside the ear to become inflamed. The infection often originates with a cold but can also be caused by exposure to second-hand smoke, as well as being exposed to other children with colds and potential secondary ear infections. Some children will have more of this kind of infection than others, and there is actually a genetic reason for that. The auditory tube in some children does not develop as quickly as it does in others and can be incapable of draining all of the debris and fluid that builds up in the ear.
Otitis Externa: The other type of ear infection that can occur in children and young adults is otitis externa or swimmer’s ear. This is caused by a bacterial infection of the outer ear and can be mostly prevented by the use of earplugs when swimming. Improper drying of the ear, with either towels or Q-tips will also cause bacteria to be introduced to the outer ear, leading to an infection. It is usually recommended that the ear be dried with a blow dryer, on its lowest setting, and not blown directly into the ear itself.
Symptoms of Ear Infection
The symptoms of an ear infection can vary from child to child and even young adults may show signs of having inner or middle ear problems, especially after recovering from a severe cold. The usual symptoms that will present themselves for this kind of infection are as follows:
Pulling on the ear: This could indicate that your child is feeling pressure or itching inside of their ear; pulling on the ear is their way of trying to relieve the pain on their own.
Persistent Crying: Children, especially very young children, cannot always communicate the pain they are feeling, so they cry. Crying is also a sign of sleep deprivation, caused by the pain from the infection during the night.
Difficulty Sleeping: The pressure caused by the inflammation of the tissues inside the ear can cause your child to lose sleep. You can ease it somewhat, even while it is being treated by your pediatrician by making sure that your child sleeps on the same side the infection is on. Gravity will help to drain it quicker if that side is facing down when the child is sleeping. Sleeping on the opposite side will cause pressure to build up, increasing the pain.
Drainage from the Ear: During the infection, pressure from within will force fluid and pus to drain out through the ear.
Balance and Hearing Problems: The pressure inside the affected ear can cause equilibrium problems, and the child may stagger a bit while walking or running. They can also become hard of hearing from the blockage, so if your child ignores you when you speak to them, or insists on turning the volume on the television up, it may be because the infection is causing a bit of hearing loss in that ear.
Fever: The progression of the infection can cause a fever spike in your child’s temperature, as the body tries to fight off the infection.
At the first sign of an infection, it is imperative that your child be seen by his or her pediatrician as soon as possible. There has been a rise in antibiotic resistant bacteria in recent years, making it even more vital that the child be seen by their pediatrician. Depending upon the results of the examination, the doctor may recommend antibiotics or a combination of antibiotics and other methods of treatment to cure the infection.