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Coffee Break with Dr Sophie Nelson of Oak Tree Surgery

Ear infections can often be dismissed as a trivial, easily treatable illness that affects many children day in day out. However, if you are a parent or carer looking after a child with a severe ear infection, you will probably have a very different opinion! Ear infections can cause huge pain and discomfort within patients and therefore lead to many sleepless nights, which affect the whole family.

The PYB Health content team has taken 5 minutes out of Dr Nelson’s busy day to get some valuable tips on how to survive an ear infection and what can be done to ease the pain as soon as possible for your little patients. 

Surviving an Ear Infection

Question – How do you know if your child or baby has an ear infection? Do they need to see their GP?

Dr Nelson - If your child isn't old enough to say “my ear hurts,” here are a few things to look for:

  • Tugging or pulling at the ear
  • Fussiness and crying
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Fever (especially in infants and younger children)
  • Fluid draining from the ear.
  • Clumsiness or problems with balance.
  • Trouble hearing or responding to quiet sounds.

If your child is otherwise well and the pain is well controlled by painkillers then you may not need to see your GP. You should contact your surgery if:

  • your child also have other symptoms, such as a high temperature (fever), vomiting, a severe sore throat, swelling around the ear, or discharge from the ear
  • there is something stuck in your or your child's ear
  • the earache doesn't improve within a few days

Question – At what point should a parent/carer be concerned about a high temperature and seek medical advice?

Dr Nelson - If your child seems to be otherwise well – for example, if they're playing and attentive – it's less likely they're seriously ill. 

However you should contact your surgery for an urgent appointment if:

  • Your child has other signs of being unwell, such as persistent vomiting, refusal to feed, a new rash, floppiness or drowsiness
  • Your child is under three months old and has a temperature of 38C or above
  • Your child is between three and six months old and has a temperature of 39C or above 

Question – Can you give Paracetamol and Ibuprofen at the same time?

Dr Nelson - Children's paracetamol or ibuprofen work well to reduce fever as well as being painkillers. 

You can't give them both at the same time, but if one doesn't work, you may want to try the other later. It is safe to use them alternately as long as you do not exceed the recommended dose for your child’s age as advised by the information on the bottle.

Question – What else can be done to ease the pain?

Dr Nelson - As well as the painkillers some children find a warm hot water bottle pressed against the ear can help with the pain.

Question – What if the child won’t eat? How long can they go without food?

Dr Nelson - It is common for children to lose their appetite a bit when they have an ear infection, but as long as they are getting plenty of fluids and are eating little bits of food throughout the day then it is nothing too much to worry about. If you can’t get them to eat or drink anything or their appetite does not return after a few days then contact your GP. 

Question – What should be done if there is lots of fluid coming from the ear? Does this mean the eardrum has perforated?

Dr Nelson - If there is fluid coming from the ear it is best to see your GP so that they can have a look in the ear. The fluid may be coming through a perforated ear drum, but it may also be coming from an infection in the outer ear or because of a foreign body so it needs checking out.

Read more on Ear Infections here.

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