Children and Ear Infection

Ear infections are very common in children. It is quite normal for the child to have one or two infections in his second and third ear of life. Here is a brief discussion of the problem and different approaches to the treatment of ear infections.

What causes Ear Infections in Children?

An ear infection occurs when one of your Eustachian tube becomes swollen or blocked, causing fluid to build up in your middle ear. Eustachian tubes are small tubes that run from each ear directly to the back of the throat.The function of this tube is compromised in children because of the size and position of the tube and the fact that in children, it is primarily made of cartilage versus adults where it is made up of bone.

What are the Common Symptoms?

  • pain or discomfort inside the ear
  • a feeling of pressure inside the ear that persists
  • fussiness in young infants
  • pus-like ear drainage
  • hearing loss
  • fever

Are Ear Infections Serious?

Usually not. Even recurrent ear infections are not associated with permanent damage to the ear. The most important issue is to make sure that the child is drinking fluids and does not dehydrated. Major complications such as brain abscess and serious problems do not usually occur unless the child is neglected or does not have access to reasonable medical care.

What is the Problem with Having Fluids in the Ear?

There are three problems associated with having persistent fluids in the ear.

  • The first problem is recurrent ear infections. This is usually because the antibiotics do not reach a high concentration within the fluids. This controls the infection but does not eliminate the bacteria. After the patient stops antibiotics, the bacteria get reactivated and produce another infection.
  • The second problem is the bones that conduct the sound inside the ear are usually suspended in the ear. If they are suspended in the fluids, they are less able to conduct the sound, therefore, producing a 30 to 40 percent hearing loss. While this hearing loss is only temporary, it occurs at the age when child is acquiring language and social skills and there is enough evidence that this influences speech development.
  • The third problem is that closure of the tube connecting the nose to the ear is associated with negative pressure generated behind the ear drum, that causes the ear drum to move inward into the ear and could ultimately cause permanent damage to the bones conducting the sound in the ear. This damage is rather uncommon and is usually result of ignoring the fluids in the ear for years.

What is the Treatment of fluid Accumulation Behind the Ear drum?

The first step is course of antibiotics. This is to take care of any active infection in the ear. (Any ear infection is usually followed by 1-2 weeks of build accumulation) if fluid is persistent, then further action must be undertaken depending on the age of child. Most often, tubes are placed in the ears to allow fluid to drain out. In cases that involve enlarged adenoids, surgical removal of the adenoids may be necessary.

How can ear infections be prevented?

The following practices may reduce the risk of ear infection:

  • washing your hands often
  • avoiding overly crowded areas
  • forgoing pacifiers with infants and small children
  • breastfeeding infants
  • avoiding second-hand smoke
  • keeping immunizations up-to-date

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