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Sore Throats and Ear Infections

Doctor looking into a young girl's ear

Infection and inflammation of the throat or tonsils it is one of the most common medical conditions experienced by people. These are generally thought of as cold weather maladies that commonly affect people during winter. In addition, although the winter season is thought of as the cold and flu season, people can suffer sore throats and ear infections at any time throughout the year. A person of any age group can suffer from sore throats and earaches. That being said, children, and older people are most often vulnerable to it due to their susceptibility to viruses like the flu virus, mononucleosis virus, and adenovirus. Common symptoms include discomfort in the throat, including dryness and throat hoarseness. Difficulty in swallowing may also be the result of a swollen throat or another form of viral throat infection.

Sore Throats and Ear Infections in Children

Experts say that the anatomy and physiology of young children's ears make them vulnerable to infection. The ear has three parts: the inner ear, the outer ear, and the middle ear. For infants and toddlers, the tube that leads from the nose to the middle ear, the Eustachian Tube, is different compared to an older child or an adult. This tube is horizontal, wider, and shorter in children. The shape of the Eustachian Tube in children makes it easier for germs to travel into the middle ear. When the tube is blocked, as is typical from the congestion of a cold or flu, the fluid that normally drains from the middle ear cannot exit. Bacteria or a virus can incubate in this build up, ultimately leading to an ear infection. The fluid that pushes on the eardrum is what causes ear pain. The younger a child is when he had his first ear infection, the more likely he will have repeated infections in the future. In general, more boys get ear infections than girls do.

Here are some symptoms to watch for in your children regarding sore throats and ear infections:

  • Pain and tugging on the ears.
  • Head shaking, especially when coupled with a fever.
  • Problems sleeping (because lying down can aggravate ear pain).
  • In addition, since sucking and swallowing are painful when a sore throat is present, your child may have trouble eating.
  • In infants, sometimes irritability may be the only clue. Frequent crying and nasal discharge are also clues to look for when trying to diagnose a sore throat or ear infection in babies.

Sore Throats versus Strep Throat

Your throat infection might be strep throat instead. To help aid self-diagnosis, it can be helpful to know the difference between just a sore throat related to say a normal cold or virus versus something more serious like strep throat. Strep throat comes from the bacterial strain of streptococcus bacteria. This is different from a sore throat (which is caused by a viral infection) and its related symptoms (like postnasal drip or dry throat). Here are some signs to help you tell the difference between a sore throat and strep throat:

  • White blotches usually accompany strep throat on the back of the throat. These blotches are tiny pus pockets that are a result of having the infection. These sores usually show up on the adenoids and tonsils and make it painful to swallow.
  • White nodules forming in your throat or on your tonsils do not necessarily indicate that it's a strep infection. It could still be a normal sore throat. You can only determine the nature of your throat infection by getting a swab and seeing if it comes back positive for strep.

Strep is contagious and needs an antibiotic in most cases to cure it. The duration of the bacterial infection can last so long that it can actually cause heart problems and more systemic infections. In fact, people have died from streptococcus infections that have gone untreated. If you have a sore throat or a related ear infection, get it checked out. You want to be on the safe side, and early detection is key to nipping it in the bud. Although antibiotics are usually prescribed, there are antibiotic-resistant strains of strep that will need alternative forms of treatment.