Ear infections are difficult to diagnose in children. In some instances, a child could be experiencing an ear infection and the parent not even know because the child does not display classic signs of symptoms. Ear infections in children are one of the top reasons for doctor visit for young children.
What is an Ear Infection?
Ear infections occur when the Eustachian tube in the child’s inner ear that is still beginning to develop becomes blocked. The tub is smaller and shaped differently than an adult tube. When the tube becomes blocked, fluid can accumulate in the middle ear, growing bacteria and leading to infection. This causes the child to experience pain. Sometimes many children cannot vocalise that they are in pain, and will begin to pull at their ear. However, those who can vocalise, may say that their ears hurt or that they can’t hear as well.
Which Age Group of Children are most likely to get Ear Infections?
Children between the ages of three months to four years old are the most highly susceptible age group of children for ear infections. This is because of the shape of their Eustachian tube, as well as that their immune systems are still developing. Other symptoms of ear infections besides pulling or tugging at the ears includes fever, constant crying, loss of appetite, not wanting to lay flat on their back, vomiting, diarrhoea, not being able to maintain their balance, and fluid draining from the ear.
How does a Pediatrician Diagnose and Treat an Ear Infection?
To diagnose a child with an ear infection, the child’s pediatrician will have to examine the child’s ears, nose, and throat with an instrument called an otoscope. With this otoscope, the pediatrician will look for buildup of fluid inside of your child’s ear canals or behind the eardrum. If the pediatrician finds any build up, he or she will use this information to help determine if your child has an ear infection. Usually, ear infections will accompany common colds or upper respiratory infections which lead to an inflammatory response, swelling around the Eustachian tube and impaired middle ear function.
To treat an ear infection often times pediatricians may recommend a wait-and-see approach to see if the child’s ear will become unblocked on his or her own. However, some pediatricians may choose to prescribe an antibiotic to take by mouth, or a type of ear drops for the parent to put in the child’s ears depending on the type of infection (middle ear vs ear canal). Once the infection resolves, the fluid inside the ear can remain in the ear but will usually disappear after three to six weeks.
In order to prevent ear infections from flaring up again it is important to teach children the benefits of proper hand-washing skills, and to have them up to date on their vaccinations.
Ear Tubes…Are they Necessary?
Children who experience very frequent ear infections may need assistance to help their ears drain and equalise pressure properly. This is why a pediatrician may recommend ear tubes for your child. If your child’s pediatrician recommends this, they will be referred to an ear, nose, and throat specialist (ENT). The ENT will then give an opinion whether or not they believe the tubes would be beneficial for your child. Next they will set up a surgery date for your child to receive the tubes.
During the surgery the ENT will place the tubes inside of your child’s ears. The tubes are very hollow and they help create a vent to equalise pressure between the outer world and the space behind the eardrum. While the Eustachian tube develops, the implanted tubes should decrease further infections.. The tubes will usually stay in the ear for about six to nine months. Sometimes they will fall out before they are ready to come out. In some cases, the ENT may suggest that they be placed back inside the ear while in others they may be left out. The ENT will want to have follow up check-ups until the tubes fall out like they are supposed to.
When Do Children Stop Getting Ear Infections?
Children tend to outgrow ear infections around seven years old, but if ear infections are fairly common in the family, children may have them much later on in their childhood. There are other factors that can contribute to the likelihood of a child getting an ear infection. For example, if a child is around an older sibling that may be in school, it is more common for the older sibling to bring new germs into the home that a younger sibling may not have been exposed to yet. This might expose the younger sibling to more colds and viruses that would therefore heighten the chances of getting an ear infection as well. Ear infections are also more common during different seasons of the year. Because people suffer from seasonal allergies, the allergies may cause their bodies to have cold like symptoms and infections, which also can contribute to an ear infection. Ear infections are more common during the fall and the winter. Another significant factor contributing to childhood ear infections is the presence of second-hand smoke.