Ear Infections

Find out what causes an ear infection and how it should be treated.

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-Hi everyone, I'm Juli Auclair. You're watching Parents TV. 2 out of 3 babies suffer from ear infections and more children will have surgery or be put on antibiotics because of an ear infection than any other cause. Well joining us now is Dr. Alan Greene, author of Raising Baby Green with tips on what to do if your baby gets one. Thank you so much for coming in today. -Thank you, Juli. -Let's start with what causes an ear infection. -Okay, I brought a bottle of an ear along to show people. From the outside, it looks sort of mysterious just the ear that parents see. Inside, there's a lot going on. There's a long canal that ends with the eardrum and right behind that is where the ear infection is. And in that little space, the middle ear space, there's a drainage tube coming out called the Eustachian tube. -Okay. -And that's the key thing about ear infections. When that drainage tube gets plugged, that's where the infection happens. Normally, bacteria comes from the nose and mouth, up and down into the ear all the time without causing a problem, but if it gets trapped in there, it grows and grows and the ear gets infected. -So why are some kids more prone to getting them than others? -It's a combination of things. It can be their tube is just narrower that can get plugged more easily. It can be that they're lying on their back drinking and something gets in there to make it plugged. It can be their immune system is not mature enough yet. Or they have allergies that's doing that. -Now if a child complains of an ear ache, does it necessarily mean that they have an ear infection? -It does not necessarily mean they have an infection. It could just be pressure stretching the eardrum that's causing the pain. -I know you said it- in your book that there were 2 different types of ear infections. There's vanilla and red hot. What's the difference there? -Vanilla infection is where you have fluid in the ear, but it's not causing a major problem there. That's my name for it, not the official name. But most ear infections are vanilla ear infections. The red hot ones- there's fluid, there is a lot of pain and the eardrum itself is beefy red, swollen, painful. -Really, really sore. I know. -That's right. -And now, is there a way to know if your child has an ear infection before you actually go to the doctor? -There is a way to tell. There's a wonderful design- device called, EarCheck. It's a sonar-like device and what you do is, you put it in the ear, press the button and half a second later it'll tell you whether or not there's fluid in the ear. If you get a green light reading on it, then you know that the ear is clear and ear infection is not the problem. -Okay now, you take your child to the doctor and sometimes they say, antibiotics is not the way to go and you say, pain medication is often a better choice. Why? -All kids with ear infections have pain. And their pain deserves to be treated. That's the reason parents really bring them into the doctor. Most of the time is they're up screaming at night not sleeping well. But antibiotics don't always help ear infections. In the US, about 10 million prescriptions of antibiotics for ear infections given in a year and about 8-1/2 million of them don't really work or 9-1/2 million. In other words, you have to treat 7 to 20 kids before you find one they're really helping. -Do you think doctors are prescribing too many antibiotics and is it dangerous to our kids if every time they go for an ear infection they're taking, you know, antibiotics? -Well, if only 5 to 14 percent of the ear infections really get-- are helped by the antibiotic. In the past, what we've done is giving them to a lot more kids and that-- trying to make sure that we're getting the right ones. In recent years though, the tide has starting to turn, people are realizing that most ear infections will get better faster and better without the antibiotic. -So you say you should always ask your pediatrician when you take your child in and is there a way for you to help my child feel better without using an antibiotic? And typically, they say yes. -And often that is the case. For it to need antibiotics, it needs to be a red hot ear infection. You need to know there's fluid in there. It started abruptly and the eardrum is swelling. -All right. So we should also ask our pediatrician if the observation method is the right way to go. What is that? -That's where you wait 48 hours before starting the antibiotic because often, the child will get better on their own in that time. If they're not getting better in 24 to 48 hours, then an antibiotic may help. But you don't lose anything by that delay. They'll get better just as quickly and you will avoid the unnecessary antibiotics. -All right. Let's talk about ear tubes now because I know that this ended up being a choice for a lot of parents whose children-- myself included, my 2-year-old, when he was 10 months had to have ear tubes because the infections just wouldn't stop. What do you think about them and when should you lean towards ear tubes? -Ear tubes can be great surgery for kids. It just basically like ear piercing the eardrums so that it makes it easier for that middle ear space to drain well and not get anything trapped inside there. My website,, I give detailed information about which kids benefit and which ones don't. But in a nutshell, those who have fluid there for a long time like 12 weeks in a row, especially when they're learning language. It's a good idea to have tubes. -And how do they help? Tell us a little bit about them. -So what they- they are called Pressure Equalization Tubes, PE Tubes. And they create a little opening in the eardrums so things can't get trapped in the middle ear space as much and it allows normal drainage through the Eustachian tube. The suction vacuum isn't there anymore. -Now once the tubes go in, how long were they in there? Do they need to be removed by a doctor or- -Most of the time they grow out on their own. On average, about 9 months or so after they're put in and most ear infections are under age 2. In fact, the biggest time is between 6 and 12 months. -So you might find a child who has ear tubes put in and still continues to get the infections? -That does happen sometimes. And there are a number of things you can do to help prevent ear infections. Avoiding exposure to tobacco smoke for kids makes a big difference. About 2 million excess cases of ear infections across in the US each year by just exposure into tobacco smoke. -Oh my goodness. All right, Dr. Alan Greene, thank you so much for this really important information. We appreciate your coming in. -Thank you, Juli. -All right and Dr. Greene's book, Raising Baby Green is in bookstores now. Thanks for watching Parents TV, your source for the best information for your growing family. Hi, I'm Juli Auclair. I hope you enjoyed this segment on Parents TV. We have so much more available now that you're gonna love and keep coming back. There are new topics set at often with information that will help youyou're your parenthood. 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