Middle ear infections, medically known as otitis media, happen more in childhood than any other time of life. It’s not that children are always more susceptible to the viruses and bacteria that cause ear infections, though that can play a role. The size and shape of their developing bodies can interfere with fluid drainage, creating ideal conditions for breeding infection.
The pressure that builds during a middle ear infection can be quite severe. The doctors at Lawrence Otolaryngology Associates specialize in pediatric ear, nose, and throat services, so we’re ready to help when your child is under the weather with an infection. Understanding more about ear infections can help you offer or obtain the care your child needs through these common illnesses.
It’s all but certain that an ear infection will strike your child before their third birthday. That’s a fact of life for over 80% of children nationwide. An under-developed immune system can play a role, particularly in infants and toddlers. Juvenile anatomy likely plays a bigger role, particularly if your child has frequent infections.
The middle ear is meant to be a dry environment, with air pressure matching it outside the ear. The eustachian tubes provide a passageway for air pressure equalization. They also serve the role of ear drainage canals, preventing fluid from building up in the ears.
When your child is young, their eustachian tubes are narrower, shorter, and more horizontal. After a respiratory infection, there’s less gravity assistance for middle ear drainage. Viruses and bacteria can thrive in the clogged middle ear, creating painful levels of pressure against the eardrum.
A child old enough to communicate their discomfort will tell you their ear hurts. Infants and toddlers may show other signs of pain, such as tugging on their ears along with crying or fussy behavior. About half of children with ear infections also develop a fever with their pain symptoms.
Middle ear pressure can make swallowing uncomfortable, so changes in your child’s appetite may also occur, and ear pain might disrupt their sleep cycles. Ear blockages tend to affect hearing, so your child may not understand you or hear you as they normally would.
Discharge from the ear could be a sign of a ruptured eardrum. Fluid may be brown, yellow, or white, and it won’t resemble earwax.
Most ear infections clear on their own. The need for medical treatment usually depends on the amount of discomfort or pain your child experiences. It’s often best to take a wait-and-see approach, particularly if the ear infection follows a cold or flu. A viral infection may clear in a few days.
Bacterial infections may require antibiotic treatments, which won’t help a viral infection. The antibiotic course depends on the severity of your child’s infection. Warm compresses and nonaspirin, child-strength pain relievers can help with their comfort.
Lawrence Otolaryngology Associates has two locations — Lawrence and Ottawa. Call the nearest office directly when your child needs attention that goes beyond home care. We’re conveniently located to help.