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A Pain in the Ear

October 05, 1998|BARBARA J. CHUCK

They're all facts of your young child's life: the smiles, the giggles, the changes, the first steps, the crying, the frequent feedings--and the ear problems. Whether the earaches are problems you can handle at home or require a trip to the doctor, you'll need to know how to deal with them. You might as well get an earful now and prepare yourself.

Here's the lowdown on why ear problems in children are so common: A child's Eustachian tube, the connection between the ear and the throat, is narrower and more horizontal than an adult's. Why does that matter to you, you wonder. Well, it means that the tube is easily blocked when a cold or allergy comes calling. When the blockage happens, the middle ear may fill with fluid, requiring medical care. In addition, moisture from swimming or bathing can infect the outer ear or the eardrum. Earwax buildup in the outer ear may also cause discomfort.

How can you tell it's an outer ear problem and something that you can treat at home? Here are a few clues:

* Junior's outer ear--the visible part of the ear--aches or feels blocked.

* The pain gets worse when you wiggle his outer ear.

* He has no fever.

* He's been on an airplane or at a different elevation recently.

To treat at home, try a nonaspirin pain reliever, such as acetaminophen. Never give aspirin to anyone 18 or younger. Apply heat to the painful ear, such as a hot-water bottle or a warm, dry towel just out of the dryer.

Of course, prevention is best. Try bottle-feeding only while your child's head is elevated, not while Junior is prone. And don't let him stick anything in his ear.

Call your pediatrician if you have any questions, but especially about middle ear infections and injuries. Any of the following signs or symptoms should also prompt a call:

* A temperature over 101 degrees and cold symptoms, such as a runny nose with green mucus.

* Severe ear pain, or an ear that feels hot to the touch.

* Any kind of discharge from the ear.

* Aching or ringing ears, dizziness or nausea after a head injury.

* The possibility of an object in the ear.

* Persistent itching in the ear.

* Ear pain that gets worse or doesn't go away after a few days.

Source: Based on information provided by StayWell Co.

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