What Causes Ear Infections?
Ear infections occur when fluid fills the space between the eardrum and the inner ear. This happens when the Eustachian tube becomes blocked due to infections or inflammation and negative pressure, which prevents infections from draining out of the middle ear. These fluids put pressure on the eardrum, causing serious pain and discomfort.
Why Do Children Get Ear Infections So Often?
Children are especially susceptible to ear infections based on anatomy. The structure of their Eustachian tubes makes them prone to swelling and blockages. Children who attend (or have siblings who attend) daycare, school or preschool, and those exposed to tobacco smoke are most at risk. Ear infections also run in the family.
What Are The Symptoms Of A Pediatric Ear Infection?
The first sign of an ear infection may be an increase in irritability. Some children cry inconsolably. You may notice your child pulling or tugging on the ear. In addition to a painful earache—worse when lying down, which can affect sleep—symptoms of ear infection include:
- Fluid/discharge from the affected ear
- A feeling of fullness in the ear
- Difficulty hearing
- Speech delay
- Trouble sleeping
- Lack of appetite
How Is A Child’s Ear Infection Diagnosed?
An ear infection is painlessly diagnosed through an examination of your child’s ears with an otoscope. If the eardrum appears dull or red, an ear infection is likely to blame. A hearing test may be recommended, especially if your child has had ear infections in the past. Although easy in theory, examining ears takes a lot of practice and experience.
How Are Ear Infections Treated?
Many doctors prefer to take a wait-and-see approach when it comes to treating ear infections, especially with younger children. They often clear up on their own without the need for antibiotics or other aggressive forms of medical treatment. Medications like TYLENOL® or MOTRIN® are important to manage pain. If severe or long-lasting, liquid antibiotics by mouth are prescribed.
How Many Ear Infections Are Too Many?
If your child is suffering from three ear infections in six months or four in one year, and if your child has been on multiple antibiotics for ear infections, they should be seen by an ENT. Placement of ear tubes to clear the space behind the eardrum, prevent further infections and make the middle ear space easier to treat—using eardrops only, not systemic antibiotics—is the most common procedure in the USA. Though it is quick and common to place ear tubes, many parents report the procedure as ‘life-changing.’
If you think your child has suffered from too many ear infections, isn’t hearing properly or is falling behind in speech milestones, they should be evaluated by an ENT and Audiologist. Sometimes the simplest procedures are the most helpful.