Ear infections – symptoms, treatments and prevention

While ear infections aren’t contagious, they can follow a cold or sore throat, both of which are contagious and extremely common for schoolchildren. So how can you help your child when he or she gets an ear infection?

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What is an ear infection?

An ear infection, medically known as otitis media, is an inflammation of the middle ear and is usually caused by a build up of bacteria behind the eardrum.

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What are the symptoms?

The most common ear infection is acute otitis media, which is when parts of the middle ear become swollen. Your child will complain that it hurts and they may also have a fever, trouble sleeping and a problem with balance or hearing.

You child is also more likely to have an ear infection after they’ve had a sore throat or a cold because the bacteria can spread easily between the nose, mouth and ear passageways.

Do you need to take your child to the doctor?

Yes. Your doctor will use an otoscope to have a look at your child’s eardrum to see if it’s inflamed.

If an ear infection is confirmed, your GP will recommend age-appropriate doses of paracetamol or ibuprofen to her with the pain but – unless your child also has a burst eardrum or signs of a more serious illness – probably won’t antibiotics. That’s because, according to new doctors’ guidelines issued by NICE, the ear infection should clear within a few days of its own accord.

Should your child go to school?

Ear infections aren’t contagious, so won’t affect anyone else at school other than your child, so you can make the decision based on how ill your child feels, and how much pain they seem to be in.

If you choose to send your child to school, give them a doctor’s note or ring their teacher to let them know, especially if your child has to do swimming or anything else that could affect the infection.

You’ll also need to let the school know if your child has to take medicine during school hours.

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What else may your child come in contact with during school?

Other infections like tonsillitis, verrucas, chickenpox, impetigo, molluscum contagiosum, threadworms, ringworm, diarrhoea and vomiting are also common for your child to catch when at school.

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