Earache for child

Earache for child

Earache is generally due to inflammation of the middle ear (otitis media), but may be due to a boil in the outer ear, or referred from elsewhere as in mumps. Although common in childhood, earache may not always be recognised for what it is. The baby may wake suddenly, screaming, at night and calm down when she is picked up. But as soon as she is put down she may start screaming again. Sometimes it is obvious that the child is ill because she has a fever and her face is flushed, but often there is little to tell parents that the child is in pain and they can be misled into thinking she is merely being difficult or spoilt’ because she stops crying when she is picked up. If there is any suspicion that your child may be suffering from earache, see a doctor as soon as possible.

Otitis media is a very common complication accompanying colds, enlarged adenoids, infected tonsils or allergic reactions such as hay fever. It results from blockage of the little tube leading from the ear to the back of the nose (Eustachian tube). Infection can then develop in the enclosed space owing to absorption of air and lack of drainage. Therefore the child who has frequent colds or any of the other problems mentioned should be examined by a doctor for signs of an inflamed eardrum.

When discovered early, otitis responds well to antibiotics and decongestants although it may take a few weeks to clear up completely. Ear infections can also be chronic, with a gluey substance collecting behind the eardrum, and the only signs of its presence may be loss of hearing or excessive irritability.

Propping the bottle when feeding a baby is also a potential cause of otitis media because milk can easily flow into the Eustachian tube. Blowing the nose hard can also force infected mucus into the ear passage. A young child may have a severe hearing loss without anyone being aware of it with the result that language development is handicapped. Since the child cannot hear, she cannot imitate sounds. She may even be noisier than most because she is unaware of the pitch of her voice. Any child who seems to be slow in learning to talk should have her hearing tested as she could miss out on a crucial stage in her language development. In extreme cases of hearing loss the child may even appear to be backward and, if the real cause is not discovered before school, she could be held back by her inability to hear.

A simple examination of the eardrum can alert a doctor to the possibility that the back of the drum is gummed up if it is not shining and mobile. If the condition is left for too long, permanent deafness can result, but a simple procedure called a myringotomy, in which a small cut is made in the eardrum and the glue’ sucked out, gives excellent results. Because there is always the danger of glue’ building up again as soon as the eardrum heals, a procedure in which a tiny plastic tube like a straw is inserted into the eardrum, has been devised. This tube, called a grommet, allows secretions to drain and prevents the accumulation of glue’. The operation is simple and the child usually spends only a few hours in hospital. Ear plugs are worn when swimming or washing the hair so that water does not enter the ear. As the child grows the grommet pops out without anyone being aware of it, or it may be removed and the hole then closes.

A very new procedure which is being perfected is the use of laser beams to make a hole in the drum.

Chronic otitis media. Sometimes infected secretions burst the eardrum and there is a discharge from the ear which parents will notice only when they see a bloody, yellowish stain on the pillow. The infection must be treated and a doctor will mop up the discharge with a swab and may prescribe ear drops and decongestants. If the source of the infection, for instance tonsils or adenoids, is not treated, the problem is likely to recur. When the discharge from the ear has a bad smell and the child feels ill, has a temperature and pain behind the ear, a doctor should be seen immediately. (A doctor should be seen for all ear problems but this is the most urgent as the infection could spread to the brain.) A bad smell from the ear may also mean a foreign body’ such as a bead or matchstick is lodged in the ear.

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