Ear infections are extremely common amongst kids in Singapore, so much that it is estimated that every five out of six children would have suffered an ear infection before their third birthday.
Although ear infections typically clear up on their own, it is important that you consult your doctor to make sure the ear infection has healed or if your child experiences ongoing discomfort. Left unaddressed, persistent ear infections can lead to other complications like hearing loss.
There are several types of ear infections, depending on which part of the ear is infected.
You may observe your child pulling or rubbing his ear, or poking his finger into his ear. This sometimes causes the eardrum to rupture, resulting in a thick and bloody ear discharge. The damaged ear drum typically heals on its own.
Ear infections can cause some degree of pain and discomfort, depending on the severity of the infection. It is important that you observe the symptoms your child displays and consult your doctor accordingly if you notice anything unusual.
Young kids under the age of three years old are especially prone to ear infections. This could be due to the immature immune system which makes them more susceptible to contracting viruses or bacteria that can result in an ear infection, or their generally shorter and softer Eustachian tubes which make it harder for earwax to be discharged.
Your child is also likely to contract an ear infection if he is enrolled in a childcare centre where viruses spread more easily and quickly among children.
Although ear infections are known to recover naturally, it may take up to three months. During this period, the temporary difficulty in hearing may result in delayed development in terms of speech and language, and behavioural problems like poor concentration.
If your child displays any of the above symptoms, it is advisable to consult your doctor.
During the diagnosis, your doctor will analyse the symptoms and conduct a physical examination using an otoscope, to identify any signs of an ear infection. The otoscope enables your doctor to look deeper into your ear to check for fluid behind the eardrum.
Treatment of ear infections aims to alleviate the symptoms and address the infection. Most ear infections can be treated at home, unless the infection is severe or there is a rupture in the eardrum where only an Ear, Nose and Throat (ENT) specialist can assist.
When diagnosed with an ear infection, your doctor will dispense ear drops to treat the infection and alleviate any pain or swelling caused by the infection. In applying the eardrops, your child should lie on his side or tilt his head towards the opposite shoulder and ear drops squirted into the ear canal. Let it rest for 20 minutes before resuming with daily activities.
For ear infections in the middle ear, your doctor will also prescribe a course of antibiotics. It is important to finish this course, even if your child starts to feel better within days. This will lower the chances of reinfection.
For children with “glue ear”, your doctor may insert tubes to prevent the accumulation of fluid in the middle ear. This will help restore hearing. For recurrent ear infections, your child may undergo a hearing test.
During the period of treatment, it is best to avoid getting the inside of your child’s ear wet except when administering the ear drops. Hearing aids and in-ear headphones should also be avoided until the pain improves.
Preventing ear infections could be easier than treating ear infections with a few lifestyle tweaks. For example, practice good hygiene and avoid sharing food or utensils with others who are unwell, to avoid contracting any virus that can result in ear infections.
It is also worth keeping up to date with your child’s vaccinations as these vaccinations can help to safeguard against any illness, such as pneumonia and meningitis, that can also cause ear infections.
Other prevention methods include keeping your ears dry, especially after swimming or bathing, and avoiding second-hand smoke which is known to increase the risk of ear infections.