8 Tips for Treating Ear Infections During Pregnancy
Ear infections are common during pregnancy, learn why ear, nose and throat (ENT) problems happen when pregnant and tips for treating ear infections and ear pain.
A woman’s body goes through many changes during pregnancy. These changes affect the physical appearance as well as the way in which the body functions. Throughout pregnancy, hormone levels shift and the immune system adapts to promote the growth and development of the baby.
Due to these hormone changes and lowered immunity function, many women experience common Ear, Nose, and Throat (ENT) disorders during pregnancy. These include things like hearing loss, nasal blockage, vocal changes, earaches and ear infections.
We’ll discuss why ear infections and pain occur during pregnancy and ways to treat these conditions.
Causes Of Ear Infections And Ear Pain During Pregnancy
The most common type of ear infection occurs in the middle ear which is the space behind the eardrum. This infection is known as acute otitis media and is normally caused by bacteria or a viral infection following a cold or respiratory illness.
For those with swollen adenoids (lymph nodes), it is actually quite common for the bacteria or virus to spread from the throat to this part of the ear.
You can also have swelling in the eustachian tube, which connects the middle ear to the back of the throat (inner ear). When this occurs, fluid can build up in the middle ear. This obstruction can produce ear pain or an infection. Earwax can also build up and block the outer ear canal, which causes similar symptoms.
Finally, a less common ear infection is called otitis externa or swimmer's ear. This affects the outer ear canal and can appear after swimming. Why? Sometimes water stays in the ear canal after swimming, which allows bacteria, virus or fungi to grow. Fortunately, this can be easily prevented by wearing earplugs while swimming and by using one part rubbing alcohol and one part white vinegar to clean out your ears after engaging in water activities.
Symptoms of ear infections include pain, itching, headache, vertigo, drainage, hearing loss, nausea and pressure. Health experts at the Mayo Clinic note that "generally, an ear infection will improve within the first couple days and clear up within one to two weeks without any treatment." However, if a fever arises, it is always best to err on the side of caution and see your healthcare provider.
Why Are Ear, Nose, and Throat Issues Common During Pregnancy?
First and foremost, during pregnancy, your body's blood volume increases by almost 50 percent! This occurs so that your body can effectively support the needs of your growing baby. The added blood flow causes the water volume in your body to increase by over two gallons.
The retention of additional fluids is the reason why you may notice that your nose is stuffy more often and that postnasal drip increases. Unfortunately, it can also lead to fluid buildup in your ears. While this will not always bring about infection, it can cause extreme discomfort.
Pregnancy brings on changes in hormone levels and an adapted immune response, which can make you more susceptible to illness during pregnancy. This is because an "expectant mother’s immune system adjusts to prevent her body from rejecting the fetus". As mentioned above, if you have an ENT infection, it is not out of the norm for this to spread to the ears.
8 Home Remedies for Treating Ear Infections During Pregnancy
Ear infections can often improve by using simple remedies you likely already have at home. Here are a few ways to treat the symptoms of an ear infection and relieve earache.
1. Take Approved Pain Relievers
If you contract a viral ear infection or have an earache during pregnancy, it is extremely important to pay close attention to the medications that you take because some of them can have a detrimental impact on your baby. The only over-the-counter pain reliever that is considered generally safe throughout pregnancy is Tylenol (acetaminophen).
Why? Research has shown that "exposure to aspirin or non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) during the first trimester of pregnancy was associated with the risk of gastroschisis (aspirin), cardiac malformations (NSAIDs) and orofacial malformations (naproxen)." In layman's terms, a side effect of taking these normally safe medications is disruptions in your baby's development, which can lead to detrimental birth defects.
The most common over-the-counter NSAIDs are Advil and Motrin (ibuprofen) and Aleve (naproxen). Despite the safety of acetaminophen during pregnancy, always talk to your healthcare provider about the proper dosage before taking any type of medication.
2. Consider An Antihistamine Or Decongestant
Many times, allergies can cause ear pain. When congestion occurs in your sinuses and nasal passages, it can cause pressure and discomfort. Taking antihistamines and decongestants that are designed to dry up liquids that build up in your body can provide you with rapid relief. Claritin or Alavert (loratadine), Benadryl, Allegra (fexofenadine), or Zyrtec (cetirizine) are all considered relatively safe during pregnancy.
Additionally, Sudafed (pseudoephedrine) has also been shown to help with earaches. However, this should only be used for up to one week unless otherwise directed. Remember, always speak to your healthcare provider before taking any medication during pregnancy.
3. Apply A Warm Compress
When infections set in, proper blood circulation is key for healing. Heat therapy can decrease pain and increase blood flow. Thus, a warm compress is a simple way to open up your blood vessels and allow white blood cells, which help fight infections, to get there sooner.
While heat is an important modality to promote healing, remember to avoid burning yourself. Make sure that your heating pad is on a low setting and wrap your warm compress in a towel before applying it to your ear.
4. Use Ear Drops
Different solutions can be used as ear drops to break down earwax buildup that may be causing pain or discomfort. Here are a few recipes for eardrops that you can make at home:
Rubbing Alcohol & White Vinegar
If you find yourself with a case of swimmer's ear while pregnant, one of the best home remedies is to create a mixture of rubbing alcohol and distilled white vinegar at a one-to-one ratio. Thanks to vinegar’s natural antibacterial properties, these ear drops can help to dry out your outer ear canal and kill any bacteria.
If you have a blockage due to a buildup of earwax, you can use a dropper to apply a small amount of hydrogen peroxide to your ear. When applying ear drops, turn your head sideways, gently pull your earlobe out and up, apply the ear drops and allow it to sit for one minute before turning your head over. This will soften and break down the earwax to help clear out the blockage. Many over-the-counter ear drops contain hydrogen peroxide, making them another easy remedy.
Antibiotic Ear Drops
Finally, when a bacterial infection is present, your healthcare provider may prescribe antibiotic ear drops. Remember to always inform your healthcare provider about your pregnancy.
5. Adjust Your Sleep Position
Another simple way to reduce the pain from an earache is to avoid sleeping with the affected ear against your pillow. This will allow fluids to drain more effectively and prevent you from applying more pressure to the area.
6. Wear Your Nighttime Mouth Guard
If you suffer from a temporomandibular joint (TMJ) disorder, your earache may actually be pain from grinding or clenching your teeth. If you experience discomfort in your temples and ears, talk to your dentist about getting a night-time mouth guard to help reduce jaw tension. If you already have one, make a point to wear it every night.
7. Chew Gum
Air pressure changes can trigger earaches, which is why one of the simplest solutions to pain and pressure is to pop in a piece of bubble gum! By opening and closing your jaw, you open the eustachian tubes in your ears, removing the pressure difference on the two sides of your eardrum.
While this problem commonly occurs when flying on an airplane, you can also experience this sensation when changing altitudes on a car trip, riding on an elevator, or submerging yourself deep enough in a body of water.
8. Get Rest And Hydrate
Finally, rest and hydration are paramount to getting better faster. These are also extremely important daily steps to take while pregnant, whether or not you are sick. Your body is going through a lot of change and a recent study demonstrates that the metabolic requirements of pregnancy are similar to those needed by people who run ultramarathons.
What Not To Do When Experiencing An Ear Infection
When earaches and ear infections during pregnancy occur, it is imperative that you do not try to manually clear out any blockage. This can push it further into the ear, or worse, puncture the eardrum.
Additionally, try to avoid getting the ear canal wet. This can lead to bacterial growth. If you need to dry out your ear after showering, gently move your head side to side to help drain out any excess water.
If you are given antibiotic drops for a middle ear infection, do not stop your antibiotic treatment early just because symptoms have gone away. Follow your healthcare provider's medical advice and finish the medication.
Finally, do not ignore troubling symptoms. While it may seem like a minor infection, it is extremely important that you prioritize your health and wellness during pregnancy. Anything that affects you can also have an impact on your baby.
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