Ear infections are one of the most common reasons for children to see their doctor. It can seem sometimes that one infection runs into another, and your child may frequently complain about sore ears.
Regardless of how common they are, ear infections aren’t something you can simply ignore until they go away. Pain can be severe enough to stop your child in their tracks and, if they’re left untreated, there’s potential for permanent damage to their hearing.
As pediatric ear, nose, and throat specialists, the team at Lawrence Otolaryngology Associates deals with children’s ear infections virtually every day, particularly through cold and flu season.
Ear infections often start with conditions created by respiratory infections. Let’s take a look at the causes behind your child’s chronic ear infections.
A bacterial source
Though infections from viral and fungal sources can also infect the middle ear, bacteria are the most common cause of ear infections. Certain conditions build up in and around the ear that create an environment in which bacteria thrive.
The eustachian tubes
The middle ear is filled with air that’s equalized with outside pressure through the eustachian tubes.
If you experience an ear-popping sensation when you swallow, you’re undergoing an equalization of pressure between the environment around you and your middle ear. Anything that blocks the eustachian tubes can set your child up for an ear infection.
Swelling and blockages
When bacteria or other infecting pathogens invade the middle ear, the walls of the eustachian tubes swell, reducing their diameter and complicating the tubes’ secondary function: providing the middle ear with a drain.
Fluid backs up in the middle ear and can’t escape, improving conditions for infection.
Your child’s anatomy
While adults also suffer from middle ear infections, it’s less common than for children. One of the reasons is the size and location of the eustachian tubes.
Their young bodies have smaller tubes that often trace a flat path across from ear to throat. Your child doesn’t gain the assistance of gravity to drain fluid in the middle ear, creating a loop that sustains the infection.
The younger your child is, the more likely that their maturing anatomy still works against them. It’s just one of several risk factors that can result in frequent ear infections. Other things that increase the chances for middle ear infections include:
- Respiratory infections: Like cold, flu, and respiratory syncytial virus (RSV)
- Seasonal allergies: Fluids building due to hay fever and other allergies can start the ear infection cycle
- Day care and schools: Being in close contact with other children increases the spread of infection
- Environmental pollutants: Including secondhand smoke
- Congenital conditions: Including cleft palate or overall small eustachian tubes
While it’s a respiratory infection and ear infections are possible, COVID-19 doesn’t seem to be a significant source of middle ear infection.
Without treatment, your child’s hearing and speech development may be affected. Call or click to book an appointment with Lawrence Otolaryngology Associates in Lawrence or Ottawa at the first sign of your child’s ear infection.
We’ll treat the current infection and review your child’s history to determine if they require more aggressive treatment. Schedule your visit now.