Ear infections are one of the most common infections we see in the doctor’s office, it can affect kids and adults alike but it’s not something that you always need to go to the doctor for, we’re going to review some simple things that you can do at home to get through, we’re going to be going through what you can do at home to alleviate and help you or your child through that your infection, for a better discussion on what the different symptoms of an ear infection are and when you should go to the doctor, make sure you get some great concise information to help you decide what to do, now when we talk about treatment, it’s important to understand that there are two main types of infections that we see, one is bacterial and one is viral, i don’t want to get into too much doctor lingo but it’s important to understand the difference because there are very different ways in which you may treat it, when a ear has a bacterial infection, we call it a cute otitis media, these are a lot less common, the second type would call Titus media with effusion, these tend to be viral, the names don’t mean a whole lot to you, all you care about is your kids ear is killing them but it makes a big difference to your doctor because depending on what the eardrum looks like gives us a good idea of which is which, ultimately it matters because there are significantly different treatment approaches that we take for each of them, so why does this matter, well it’s important to know because antibiotics are worthless in treating a virus, if the eardrum is red and bulging out at you then it’s more likely to be a bacterial infection, it may benefit from an antibiotic, now if the ear is just red and angry looking but not bulging out then it’s more likely to be a virus and the antibiotic would be worthless so red and bulging likely means an antibiotic, just a red eardrum likely does it, I’m not going to go into depth today about the dangers of overusing antibiotics, but the short of it is the more we use antibiotics unnecessarily, the less they’re going to work when we need them.
Unfortunately ear infections are one of the leading reasons for unnecessary use of antibiotics, so hopefully this will help you be a little better educated as you speak to your doctor on your options for treating this, unfortunately for you the patient there really isn’t a way to know what you or your child have without an exam, so does that mean that you need to run to the doctor or emergency room every time your kid complains of an ear pain well thank goodness the answer is no, you only need to see a doctor when you notice fluid draining from your ear, running a fever or thr earache is becoming unbearable and has lasted for more than 2 days.
What are some things that you can do at home to help you through this? It’s important to remember that since most ear infections are caused by our virus your body will often clear it on its own, because of that, most of our treatments will focus on helping with the symptoms while your body does what it does best and that’s fight it off, it’s something you know the infection on its own so the most effective thing that you can start with controlling the symptoms are simply taking some of the over-the-counter pain relievers like ibuprofen or Tylenol, both can be very effective in controlling the pain and symptoms related to an ear infection, just follow those instructions on the bottle,you may not know this but often we can get better relief by alternating both medications, you may want to talk to your doctor about this but to patients, most doctors often recommend taking each one every six hours but that means that if you stagger them, you can alternate taking one every three hours, taking something more consistently usually gives pretty good pain control and will control your symptoms better. The next thing that can provide some relief is using a warm compress or heating pad and alternating that with cold compress or ice, now be careful not to leave heating pads on for a long time but applying heat to the area can oftentimes provide some relief, you can then alternate this with a cold pack or ice to help control the pain and symptoms related to the infection, so those are a couple things that we know by working through different studies but there are plenty of things that are done and use that can provide some relief that may not be quite as studied, so here are a few simple ideas that you can do, well one thing you can do is have your child sleep with you, while we’re up we can use gravity to help relieve some of that pressure, also you can apply some gentle downward and outward traction on the earlobes while they’re laying on their back, this won’t cure the infection but it can help relieve some of the built-up pressure, also some other things that many people may advocate for are putting in things like garlic oil, tea tree oil, ginger or olive oil in the ear, a few drops of body temperature oil in the ear can’t provide some relief, I wouldn’t count on that necessarily, but it won’t hurt and can provide some relief and although there aren’t any great studies showing that these things are effective, they aren’t felt to be harmful, now there are plenty of people out there going to swear by them but remember most ear infections are caused by a virus and will get better on their own anyway so just because you didn’t go to the doctor and get an antibiotic and it got better doesn’t necessarily mean that it was from these treatments, the only caution that I would give you and trying some of these alternatives that is if there’s drainage coming from the ear, I’d recommend getting that checked out before you start putting things in there, if you have a ruptured eardrum, you don’t want to be putting drops in there, a couple things that I do recommend against and these are ear candles and even worse fire cones, this is where you use a candle in the ear or rolled-up piece of newspaper in the ear and light it on fire, this has been looked at and it is not shown to be effective and really can be quite dangerous so just don’t do it. The most important thing to remember about any of the home remedies is that if your symptoms persist or getting worse after a couple days, go see a doctor. The last thing I want to talk about and this may be the most important, what are some of the things that you can do to prevent your kids from getting them in the first place? here’s a few things that I suggest, first is get your kids vaccinated for both flu and pneumonia as well as the bacteria homophily influenza, now these are standard common childhood immunizations, also wash your hands and teach your kids to wash the hands frequently just to prevent them from getting sick in the first place, get rid of the constant use of a pacifier, in one study it showed that the elimination of a pacifier caused decreased ear infections by one-third, also don’t give infants bottles to sleep with, besides dental problems, it also increases in risk for ear infections, you do need to stop smoking, smoke exposure for your kids also increases the risk of ear infections. Make sure you breastfeed your baby for at least six months preferably for a year if you can well so that’s about all we wanted to share today about ear infections but before I go, I want you to remember these three simple take-home points. First, most ear infections are viral and don’t need to be treated. Secondly, try and control the symptoms and if that doesn’t work or the symptoms persist for a few days then go to the doctor and finally, remember to take those steps that we just reviewed to prevent your infections from happening in the first place.