Ear infections are caused by a buildup of fluid in the Eustachian tube—a tube that drains fluid from the ears into the nasal passages. Ear infections are very common among young children, although they can occur in adults as well. It has been estimated that seven out of 10 children will have at least one ear infection by age three. A good portion of these children will have more than one ear infection
Ear infections occur in children most often, simply because childrens’ Eustachian tubes are shorter and less angled than are adult Eustachian tubes, making blockage more likely when inflammation occurs.
Contrary to common fear, ear infections don’t normally cause permanent hearing loss. However, if ear infections aren’t treated conscientiously, it is possible for the infection to spread to the inner ear, where it can damage ear bones and the inner ear structure, causing permanent hearing damage.
With this in mind, it’s important to treat your child’s ear infection early and with a great deal of focus and determination. Doing so will better ensure a lifetime of proper hearing for you and/or your youngster.
Because ear infections often occur in young children, they may not always be able to communicate the situation clearly. Parents should be aware of nonverbal cues indicating that an infection is present. Increased irritability in your child, or pulling on the ear should clue parents in that an infection may be present.Other symptoms include:
Skip the Q-tip. Ear specialists recommend that cotton swabs NOT be used to clean ears, because they can be traumatic to the ear canal. Cotton swabs tend to force old skin, wax, and debris toward the eardrum, doing more harm than good. Try using a solution of white vinegar and rubbing alcohol applied with an ear dropper to remove wax. Don’t use this method if you have a perforated eardrum.
If pain and discomfort lasts beyond two to three days, seek medical attention. Ear infections are commonly treated with antibiotics. Antibiotics usually clear up the infection within 10 days. After two to three days of taking the antibiotics, your child should begin to feel better. Even so, make sure that your child takes the antibiotics for the recommended amount of time to make sure the infection clears up properly. Other signs that you should contact your healthcare provider include the following.
Most ear infections will run their course within a few days if self-care techniques are utilized. In fact, nearly 80 percent of ear infections clear up without any treatment at all. Use the following self-care techniques to address an ear infection properly.
Take a look at the following frequently asked questions—they’ll help you further understand this condition, and better care for yourself and your family.
How common are ear infections?
Ear infections in children are actually quite common. In fact, 70 percent of children will have at least one middle ear infection by the age of three. A good percentage of these children will have recurrent ear infections. Next to the common cold, ear infections just may be the most common illness in children.
Why are children more prone to ear infections than adults?
Because they have shorter, narrower Eustachian tubes—the tubes that drain fluid from the inner ear. During an infection (like a common cold) the shorter, narrower Eustachian tubes in children can become inflamed and swell more easily, trapping fluid and allowing bacteria to flourish.
My child is experiencing recurrent ear infections. What are my options?
Speak with your healthcare provider. Typically, antibiotics and time will heal ear infections, however, if ear infections become chronic, they can be dangerous and may lead to hearing loss and delayed speech development. In some cases, your doctor may recommend preventive antibiotic therapy or ear tubes to counteract this possibility.
Do children outgrow ear infections?
For the most part, yes. As a child grows and develops, Eustachian tubes become wider and more angled, and therefore function better. Ear infections are still possible in older children and adults, but are much less common.
“It has been estimated that 7 out of 10 children will have at least one ear infection by age three.”
Ear infections, especially in younger children, are very hard, if not impossible to prevent. There are, however, a number of steps you can take to make them less likely. Practice the following tips to minimize your child’s risk of an ear infection.
For children with severe and persistent ear infections, your healthcare provider may recommend ear tubes. Ear tubes are small, plastic tubes, strategically placed through the eardrum while a child is under general anesthetic. These tubes help ear infections by allowing air to enter the middle ear and by providing better drainage from the middle ear into the ear canal.
There are pros and cons to having ear tubes placed. Ultimately, the decision is up to you and your healthcare provider as to what will be best for your child.
Ear Tube Pros:
Ear Tube Cons:
“Never stick anything deep into the ear canal as it can damage the ear drum and may cause hearing loss.”
Allergies, bronchitis, and pneumonia are respiratory conditions that affect millions of Americans each year. In this section we’ll learn about allergies, bronchitis, and pneumonia, learning when to employ self-care techniques, and when to contact a healthcare provider.
Allergies — an overreaction of the immune system to a normally harmless substance in the environment (called an allergen).
Bronchitis — an inflammation of the bronchial tubes leading to the lungs. Oftentimes, bronchitis appears within three to four days after an upper respiratory infection like a cold or the flu.
Pneumonia — an infection or inflammation that affects the bronchial tubes leading into the lungs. Pneumonia is typically the result of a bacterial infection; however, viruses and parasites can also cause this condition. Pneumonia sometimes follows a viral respiratory infection such as a cold or bronchitis.
Each of these conditions—allergies, bronchitis, and pneumonia—have similar symptoms, yet there are some important differences. Take a look at the symptoms for each condition outlined here to determine what you may be suffering from, and what you can do to find relief.
Get Treated Right Away. According to the American Lung Association, those with chronic bronchitis often neglect to get professional medical treatment when necessary because they don’t think bronchitis can be serious. But in advanced stages, bronchitis can cause serious damage to the lungs and may lead to heart failure. If you experience any of the serious symptoms of bronchitis listed in this section, contact a healthcare provider right away.
Though most respiratory conditions are typically mild, they can become very serious, requiring the assistance of a healthcare professional. If you have any of the following symptoms, you should seek medical care immediately.
“Over 11 million Americans are diagnosed with chronic bronchitis each year.”
Home treatment for most respiratory conditions is preferable as long as severe symptoms do not develop (see, “When to Seek Care” for a listing of severe symptoms). With proper care, it is possible to feel better within a week or two, except for cases of severe pneumonia, which may take several weeks to clear up.
“If you suspect you have pneumonia, contact your healthcare provider right away—you may benefit from antibiotics.”
I’ve heard that as I age, risk of serious complications from pneumonia increase. What can I do to reduce my risk?
You can get the pneumococcal vaccine. This vaccine is recommended for those ages 65 or older, or those who have chronic health conditions such as asthma. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that children under two years of age also receive the pneumococcal vaccine.
Does smoking cause bronchitis?
According the American Lung Association smoking is by far the most common cause of chronic bronchitis. Smoking also causes heart disease, cancer, and emphysema. There’s only one right thing to do when it comes to smoking—quit!
How can I tell the difference between a common cold and allergies?
Allergies and colds can often produce the same kinds of symptoms—runny nose, sneezing, congestion, etc. The main difference between the two is that an allergic reaction will most likely produce all symptoms at the same time. A cold, on the other hand, generally produces these symptoms in succession. Another way to distinguish allergies from a cold is to look at duration—colds typically last one week, whereas allergies will remain as long as the allergen is present.
There are many things you can do reduce your chances of developing bronchitis or pneumonia, or to avoid allergic reactions. Take a look at some of the tips below.
Bronchitis and Pneumonia
“Cigarette smoking is by far the most common cause of chronic bronchitis.”
Just as its name suggests, a urinary tract infection (UTI) is an infection of the urinary tract, which is comprised of the kidneys, the passageway between the kidneys and the bladder (ureter), the actual bladder, and a small tube that carries urine to the outside of your body (urethra). An infection of the urinary tract takes place most often when E. coli bacteria enter the urethra (the tube through which urine passes), and then enters your urine or bladder. The infection may then travel from the bladder to the ureter and finally to the kidneys.
Urinary tract infections are very common, and though not typically a serious medical condition, a UTI can be painful and uncomfortable. The following information can help you recognize, treat, and relieve the pain associated with a urinary tract infection.
A Juicy Question. For years, cranberry juice has been consumed to treat and prevent urinary tract infections. And while the clinical evidence on the effectiveness of cranberry juice for treating UTIs remains mixed, the benefits of flushing your system with fluids to cleanse bacteria are well known. Make sure to drink plenty of fluids each day—cranberry juice or otherwise—when you have a UTI. The extra fluids will help cleanse your system.
The symptoms of UTIs are easy to identify. Consider the following signs and symptoms and determine whether or not you may be suffering from a UTI.
While most urinary tract infections can be treated easily at home, if symptoms persist or worsen, it’s important that you see your healthcare provider. Untreated urinary tract infections can spread to other parts of the body such as the kidneys, and cause serious complications. If you’re experiencing any of the following symptoms, see your healthcare provider right away.
With quick attention and proper care, a urinary tract infection can be easily and effectively treated in the comfort of your own home. However, if your symptoms last longer than one or two days after beginning self-care, you should see your healthcare provider for treatment.
The following self-care techniques will help you treat a urinary tract infection at home.
“Untreated urinary tract infections can spread to other parts of the body such as the kidneys, and cause serious complications.”
What causes urinary tract infections?
There are a lot of things that can cause a urinary tract infection. Bacteria from bowel movements can cause an infection if it makes its way into your urinary tract. For women, sexual intercourse can push bacteria into the bladder causing an infection. Those with diabetes may also be more susceptible to urinary tract infections because diabetes makes it harder for your body to fight off infection.
If I have to go to the doctor for a UTI, what will he or she do?
Because UTIs are so common, a trip to the doctor is really nothing to worry about. Your doctor will ask you to urinate into a cup, and the urine will be tested for the presence of an infection. If an infection is found, your doctor will most likely prescribe antibiotics to help clear up the infection.
I’ve heard that pregnant women are more likely to suffer from a urinary tract in-fection. Is this true?
Not necessarily. However, it may be more likely that the infection will travel to the kidneys in pregnant women. Doctors believe that the position of the urinary tract, along with hormonal changes that occur during pregnancy, make it easier for bacteria to travel through the ureters and into the kidneys.
While UTIs are extremely common, they aren’t necessarily inevitable. There are some steps you can to take to avoid getting a urinary tract infection. And while the verdict is still out on the effectiveness of these prevention efforts, many who have suffered swear by the tips below.
Prevention for Adults
If you’re a common sufferer give the following strategies a try:
Prevention in Children
Your child’s well-being is always a concern, so it’s important to treat a UTI in children as early as possible, and also take steps to prevent them from occurring. The following steps can help prevent UTIs in children.
“Drinking at least eight, 8 oz. glasses of fluids daily can help flush the bacteria causing a UTI.”
Although vision problems can be uncomfortable and sometimes frightening, most are not serious. In fact, the three common vision problems discussed here—dry eyes, pink eye (conjunctivitis), and styes—are quite common and are usually not cause for alarm.
In addition to the natural drying of our eyes with age, allergies, smoke, dust, and some medications (sleeping aids, blood pressure pills, etc.) can cause dry eyes. Symptoms include:
Pink Eye (Conjunctivitis)
Pink eye is an inflammation of the membrane (conjunctiva) that lines the eyelid and eyeball. Bacteria, viruses, and irritants in the air can cause pink eye. Symptoms include:
A sty is a non-contagious infection of an eyelash follicle. Normally, styes fill with pus for about a week and then burst. Symptoms include:
Picking the Right Pair of Sunglasses. Are darker lenses in sunglasses more protective than lighter lenses? No. Tint has nothing to do with it. What you want to look for is adequate protection against both UVA and UVB light. Look for a sticker on your sun-glasses that reads, “Z80.3.” These sunglasses meet various protection standards set by the American National Standards Institute.
“See a doctor immediately if you experience sudden, partial, or total loss of vision.”
There are some general eye symptoms that require immediate, emergency attention. Seek medical attention in the following situations.
Try the following strategies to gain relief from dry eyes.
If you experience any symptoms of pink eye, contact your healthcare provider. Your healthcare provider may test the secretions from your eye to determine whether the cause is viral or bacterial. Viral pink eye will usually clear up on its own, while bacterial pink eye will require an antibiotic eye drop or ointment.
Use the following self-care tips to treat a sty.
The quiz below is designed to test your knowledge on the information presented in this section. Use this quiz as a tool to better understand how to care for yourself and others.
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The information contained in this guide is based on the best health information available and has been reviewed for accuracy. This information is not intended to replace the advice of your healthcare provider. If you have any questions about managing your own health and/or seeking medical care, please contact a medical professional.
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