Raising Healthy Kids: How to battle childhood ear infections

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Ear infections are one of the most common medical problems parents have to face. (WPVI)

Ear infections are one of the most common medical problems parents have to face. Most kids get at least one ear infection before they turn 2-years-old.

Dr. Eileen Everly of Children's Hospital really relates to families dealing with ear infections.

"Ear infections are the bane of every child's existence, because they are painful, they hurt. I remember having ear infections all the time as a kids, and they were not fun," she explains.

Dr. Everly says they happen when bacteria and viruses usually in the nose migrate to the middle ear - the pocket of air behind the ear drum.

It happens more in children under the age of 3 because of their anatomy. At that age, the eustachian tubes are very small, and aren't as good at keeping germs out as in older children.

Dr. Everly says, "If they're in daycare, if they have big families, or if they're in school or have older siblings that bring home a lot of bacteria and viruses, they are going to get exposed to a lot more."

Good handwashing by the whole family can cut down on that. When an infection does strike, doctors often recommend pain relievers like acetaminophen or ibuprofen so a child can sleep.

If they do think bacteria is to blame, they may recommend an antibiotic, too. But antibiotics won't stop infections caused by viruses.

And Dr. Everly says there's a very important rule: "It's twice a day for 10 days, and the really big thing here - you gotta finish all 10 days!"

Otherwise, bacteria become drug-resistant, and useless over time.

Dr. Everly says some vaccines, like the pneumococcal shot, also reduce ear infections. It's aimed at preventing pneumonia, meningitis, and sepsis - but the same bacteria also causes a lot of ear infections.

She says youngsters with narrow ear canals may need tubes through the ear drum to promote drainage. But in most kids, ear infections decline after the age of 4 they grows.

One more thing parents can do - keep children away from cigarette smoke. It keeps the eustachian tubes from working properly.

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