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What is an ear infection?

Just this weekend I have up front and close experience with an ear infection. Since I don’t work with kids all the time anymore I don’t get to see them as often as I use too. Two nights ago my son was up all night reporting stuffed ear and thinking it was wax. In the morning I looked in his ear with my handy otoscope (ear light) and there was not much wax there. I parted the wax a bit and there was a red ear drum! After getting him to a PA to treat with antibiotics and feeling a little bit better about his ear he drilled me on what an ear infections is and how he got it! Oh the joy to finally have my child interested in something I do and with great interest. So here is what I told him:

I started telling him the parts of the ear. The outer ear, the middle ear and the inner ear. The outer ear helps pick up sound and if there is wax it will stop the sound. The middle ear is a space that is filled with air. It stays in healthy air as long as the Eustachian Tube stays open, allowing the middle space to vent itself. If the Eustachian tube gets swollen or doesn’t allow the air to come and go it can become negative space and pull in liquid/water from the cells that surround the middle ear space. The middle space then sits in fluid/water. Water slows down the movement of the little ear bones inside that middle space. Hence why he felt plugged up. To move the middle ear bones in the water you need more energy/louder sounds.

The fluid needs to leave the space. The fluid can get infected and hence an “infection”. From what I understand from many people is that the infection hurts while just having fluid can be annoying. In either case the fluid isn’t healthy for the space and the middle ear bones. Often an infection will show symptoms of red, pain and even fever. Fluid without infection usually shows as just bubbles behind the ear drum.

Treatment for an ear infection is antibiotics. If it is chronic, meaning that the fluid comes back again and again or doesn’t go away then consulting with an MD to perhaps put a little tube or a pressure equalizing tube (PE Tube) is appropriate to be inserted into the ear drum. This tube allows the middle ear space some ability to pressurize itself and also drain the the fluid.

Of course after telling my son all this and repeating some of the information in different ways and explaining some things in more detail, he walked away with a final word “cool”. After one day on antibiotics he is not reporting pain but said his ear still is annoying, I will check it again in a week to see if the fluid is gone. You can rest assure that if it is not, he will go see an Ear Nose and Throat Physician.

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