Every parent knows how stressful it can be when a young child falls ill. In situations where the child is in the early stages of learning to communicate verbally, determining the nature and severity of symptoms can be difficult.
One illness that commonly shows up in children younger than five is acute Otitis Media, or AOM. Parents often hear about this illness, and they know it’s possible their child will have it at some point—but the average parent may not know much about AOM, what the symptoms are, or how medical professionals and urgent care centers will treat it.
So what is Otitis Media?
Essentially, it’s a bacterial infection in the middle ear. It’s one of the most common medical conditions in young children, but it can sometimes occur in older children and even adults.
AOM often comes on the heels of cold, flu, or any kind of respiratory ailment or infection. This is because bacteria often gathers in the respiratory tract, nose, and/or sinuses during such illness. The bacteria often finds its way to the middle ear through the Eustachian tubes, which connect the ears to the respiratory tract.
What should parents look for?
Anytime a child has had a cold, flu, or any other type of respiratory infection, he or she should be monitored for signs of AOM. Your child may be suffering from AOM if you noticed any of the following signs/symptoms:
- The child pulls repeatedly at the ear
- Fever, vomiting, or diarrhea are present
- Fluid is draining from either or both ears
- The child has no appetite or has trouble eating
- The child seems unusually fussy or fatigued
- The child complains of discomfort or pain in the ears
What is the exam like?
A qualified doctor or nurse should use special instruments to perform a painless visual inspection of the child’s middle ear. This will usually be enough for the doctor or nurse to see whether the area is infected. Parents should also know that the doctor may need to clear wax from the ear in order to look inside properly. This too is a painless procedure, although many children find it uncomfortable.
What should parents do?
When your child is diagnosed with AOM, doctors or nurses may choose to monitor him or her for a period of time before taking further measures. Otitis Media is a common condition, and symptoms often resolve with or without treatment. Antibiotics are often used to clear the infection if it has been present for some time. Other medications, including analgesics, antihistamines, and decongestants may also be used.
Should I take my child to urgent care?
Because Otitis Media is a common condition, and because the prognosis is excellent with timely treatment, parents shouldn’t be overly worried. However, it is possible for children to develop hearing loss if acute Otitis Media goes untreated.
For these reasons, parents who suspect ear infection in their child should head to a local urgent care center (there is no need for an appointment at most urgent care facilities) for a quick and painless examination. Whether or not a diagnosis of acute Otitis Media is given, families will be able to go home with greater peace of mind.