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Kids, Upper Respiratory Viruses, And Ear Infections

According to a new study published this month, more than 20 percent of young children with colds or other upper respiratory viruses will develop middle ear infections.

This finding isn’t that surprising. Eear symptoms along with a viral upper respiratory infection (URI) are common, including ear fullness and difficulty popping the ear. Although adults tend to be able to keep their ears clear by swallowing, chewing gum, yawning, or ear popping, most kids don’t know what to do when their ears feel full.

Whether in adults or kids, when the ears don’t ventilate or clear properly it can lead to ear problems including fluid buildup and middel ear infection. Why does this occur?

With a viral URI the lining of the nose swells, leading to symptoms of runny nose, nasal congestion, and sometimes nasal obstruction. This swelling doesn’t just occur in the nose, but also in the eustachian tube, which connects the back of the nose to the middle ear. When the ear “pops,” the eustachian tube opens to allow pressure and fluid to drain from the ear into the back of the nose. This is why yawning, swallowing, or noseblowing can cause an ear to pop normally.

When the lining in the eustachian tube swells up, the tube becomes blocked and prevents the ear from popping, leading to symptoms of ear pressure and fullness, fluid buildup, clogging, and often ear infections.

Read more about eustachian tube dysfunction here.


Clinical Spectrum of Acute Otitis Media Complicating Upper Respiratory Tract Viral Infection.” Pediatric Infectious Disease Journal. February 2011, volume 30, issue 2, pp 95-99.

*This blog post was originally published at Fauquier ENT Blog*

Treating The Common Cold

For the last week I have had a cold. I usually get one each winter. I have two kids in school and they bring home a lot of viruses. I also work in a hospital, which tends (for some reason) to have lots of sick people. Although this year I think I caught my cold while traveling.  I’m almost over it now, but it’s certainly a miserable interlude to my normal routine.

One thing we can say for certain about the common cold — it’s common. It is therefore no surprise that there are lots of cold remedies, folk remedies, pharmaceuticals, and “alternative” treatments. Finding a “cure for the common cold” has also become a journalistic cliche — reporters will jump on any chance to claim that some new research may one day lead to a cure for the common cold. Just about any research into viruses, no matter how basic or preliminary, seems to get tagged with this headline. (It’s right up there with every fossil being a “missing link.”)

But despite the commonality of the cold, the overall success of modern medicine, and the many attempts to treat or prevent the cold — there are very few treatments that are actually of any benefit. The only certain treatment is tincture of time. Most colds will get better on their own in about a week. This also creates the impression that any treatment works — no matter what you do, your symptoms are likely to improve. It is also very common to get a mild cold that lasts just a day or so. Many people my feel a cold “coming on” but then it never manifests. This is likely because there was already some partial immunity, so the infection was wiped out quickly by the immune system. But this can also create the impression that whatever treatment was taken at the onset of symptoms worked really well, and even prevented the cold altogether.

What Works

There is a short list of treatments that do seem to have some benefit. Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), like aspirin, ibuprofen, and naproxen, can reduce many of the symptoms of a cold – sore throat, inflamed mucosa, aches, and fever. Acetaminophen may help with the pain and fever, but it is not anti-inflammatory and so will not work as well. NSAIDs basically take the edge off, and may make it easier to sleep. Read more »

*This blog post was originally published at Science-Based Medicine*

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