Staying informed about Ear Infections

Who's your favorite TV doctor?

I am not a doctor, nor do I play one on TV.  I am a mom with a daughter, now 12, who is (said with limitless gratitude) quite healthy.  I have a personal philosophy to seek medical intervention rarely.  Only when something that should have run its course does not, or for ailments requiring prescription medication such as pink eye, strep throat, etc., do I make the leap.  I believe the human body is an amazing piece of work that can heal itself, left to its own devices and I hold a healthy skepticism about how much medication and care is necessary.   My parents didn’t medicate us, so I don’t seek medication as a solution and I don’t want my daughter taking medication needlessly.  Especially with antibiotics.  I have a friend who was so frequently prescribed antibiotics as a child she is now resistant to many antibiotics.

I do believe in immunization.  I think there have been amazing advances in medicine and prevention of disease is high among them.  I would never understand those who don’t immunize, especially knowing the risk to your child and the community.

I also believe treatments come into vogue, such as having tonsils removed – which happened to two of my siblings and is now seen to be far less necessary.  Perhaps I follow Ben Franklin‘s advice that “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.”  I am also very fortunate to be healthy.  I’ve never had the flu and honestly could not tell you the last time I had a cold.  I do know that each time you have a cold, you build natural immunities.

When my daughter was very young she had ear infections like so many babies and toddlers do.  The reason they are susceptible to infection is because the Eustachian tubes are still forming and are shorter which makes them prone to clogging.  My daughter had a couple of ear infections, for which we were prescribed medication and dutifully administered it.  Then, she came down with an ear infection on Christmas night when she was about 3-1/2 years old.  Poor child is trying to sleep and the pain is keeping her from doing so.  We run out to the all night pharmacy (Duane Reade at Columbus Circle in Manhattan) and pick up some Tylenol® for the pain and take her to the pediatrician the next morning.  The doctor prescribed a stronger medicine for this infection, perhaps something he saw in the ear or maybe trying to knock it out for good.  The medicine had a horrible taste which could not be hidden in anything – yogurt, ice cream, milkshakes, smoothies, applesauce; whatever we tried to mix it in, my daughter refused.  We were worried she wouldn’t heal so I did some research on ear infections to see what would happen if she did not finish the medication.

I found out an ear infection is caused by either bacteria or a virus.  It can’t be caught, like a cold.  But, it can appear at the end of a cold.  It can also occur in children who lie on their backs with a bottle or sippy cup, thereby causing a clog in the tube.  In most cases, an ear infection will run its course and life goes on.  There is risk of hearing loss, if it lasts longer than usual.  Just as there is risk of many non-threatening symptoms becoming a bigger problem if it persists.

How far will you go to ease your child's suffering?

When I was  child it was common to be given antibiotics even for colds.  We now recognize antibiotics won’t do anything for a cold.  When my daughter was a toddler, it was common to give antibiotics for ear infections.  Now it is recognized that antibiotics are not necessary unless the ear infection does not subside after 2-3 days.  In the meantime, you can treat the pain with a warm cloth and ibuprofen or acetaminophen.

My point is that we should be informed consumers.  There are enough competing interests from pharmaceutical companies, the medical community and other parents; that doing a little research for ourselves and our children will go a long way toward ensuring our best interests are being met, as we define them for ourselves.

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