Coping With a Middle Ear Infection

Caregiving tips for your self and for others

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In most cases, this article will be for parents who are taking care of their child who is experiencing an ear infection. It can be difficult and frustrating to see your child in pain. It may help to know that even in the case of frequent recurring ear infections, most children grow out of this condition. This is true even in the majority of extreme cases that require the surgical placement of ventilation tubes.

Also rest assured that there are several things that you can do to help get through the 24 hour period before antibiotics have a chance to take effect, to reduce the pain your child feels.

Self-Care Tips

It can be hard for parents to leave their child when they aren't feeling well, but remember that unless you take care of yourself you will be unable to appropriately care for your child.

Take a Break

Consider allowing a trusted adult to watch your child on occasion. Caregiver burnout is a very real condition that can cause depression, physical and mental exhaustion, irritability, and can even make you more prone to becoming ill yourself. Despite your best efforts, experiencing these symptoms will have a negative effect on your sick child. Taking the time to workout or see a movie will prevent caregiver burnout and ultimately make you a better caregiver.

Don't Get Frustrated

If your child has been diagnosed with an ear infection, they have probably been fussy for several days due to the pain they are experiencing in their ears. You may feel frustrated as a parent that you did not know that they were having ear pain.

This is completely normal to feel frustrated with yourself, but know that you are not alone. The sometimes subtle pulling at the ear, or just plain fussiness, can be mistaken for any number of reasons. As soon as possible, start treating pain with over-the-counter medications.

Caregiving Tips

You can take steps to make your child as comfortable as possible.

Physical Accommodations

For the typical bout of an ear infection, you will not have any physical accommodation to make other than resting up. However, if your child suffers from recurrent ear infections, you may need to monitor their speech and hearing.

Either your primary care provider or an ear, nose, and throat specialist (ENT) can evaluate your child for chronic otitis media, or fluid in the ears, and determine if you need continued follow-up hearing exams or therapy with a speech-language pathologist.

Practical Tips

Treating your child with acetaminophen or ibuprofen will be a life-saver at the start of the ear infection. It will also be helpful for you to apply a warm or cool cloth to the affected ear. During this time, you should also:

  • avoid getting water inside your ears
  • avoid cleaning ear wax out
  • avoid putting anything in your ears like a cotton swab

These relief tips will help you control your ear pain until antibiotics have taken effect. Distraction is a great technique so letting them watch their favorite movie or engage in another activity that can keep their mind off of their discomfort may be helpful.

Administer Medications Appropriately

In many cases, ​ear infections require the administration of antibiotics. These medications work best to decrease the length of time that your child is sick when they are given appropriately. This means that they are given as prescribed, on time, and for the entire length of time that your doctor has instructed. Watch your child for negative side effects or signs of an allergic reaction such as hives or a rash and notify your doctor if you are concerned.

It may also require some skill/instruction to give ear drops appropriately. Have your child lay on their side with the affected ear up and then gently pull the earlobe out and down. Keep your child in this position for several minutes to allow the ear drops to work.

See a Specialist

If your child doesn't seem to be getting better or seems to have an excessive number of ear infections it's a good idea to visit an ear, nose, throat doctor (​an otolaryngologist). 

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