If it seems like you’re taking your kids to the doctor more for ear infections than any other complaint, it’s because you are. Ear infections, medically called otitis media, are the No. 1 reason why children see a primary caregiver. Five of every six kids will have at least one ear infection before they turn 3 years old.
Middle ear infections can clear up on their own, but one of the reasons children have more frequent infections is their ears don’t easily drain naturally, and that prevents spontaneous healing. That’s one reason why this common condition can need medical attention when it occurs.
Not all middle ear infections are the same. The most common type is the acute otitis media (AOM) form, accompanied by an earache due to infection, swelling and trapped fluid behind the eardrum.
The second type shows evidence of retained fluid, even after the infection is over. This may not present any symptoms, but a doctor can detect this fluid. Called otitis media with effusion (OME), it forms the third type of ear infection when it persists. Chronic otitis media with effusion (COME) may lead to even more frequent ear infections and could result in hearing loss.
Bacteria are the usual culprits behind ear infections, arriving at the middle ear by way of the eustachian tubes, often when another illness is present, such as a sore throat, common cold, or respiratory infection.
If these infections are bacterial, those same bacteria can cause the earache. Viral illnesses create bacteria-friendly conditions in the middle ear, creating secondary infections.
The eustachian tubes of children are naturally smaller, as the child is still growing, and the tubes are more level than they will be when the child reaches maturity. These factors mean that it’s more likely that your child’s ears can be blocked during infections.
This makes the middle ear a haven for infection-causing bacteria, while blocking the drainage route needed for the infection to clear naturally.
There’s also a genetic connection that makes some children more susceptible to ear infections than others. Researchers discovered that identical twins had more incidents of ear infections than fraternal twins. Assuming similar contact between siblings, this suggests that there are genetic factors that predispose some people toward ear infections.
You can take some steps to reduce your child’s risk of ear infections. Following some or all of these tips could keep bacteria at bay, keeping your child’s ear clear and pain-free.
When ear infections become frequent or chronic, it’s time to consult the pediatric ear, nose, and throat specialists at Lawrence Otolaryngology Associates. Contact the most convenient office by phone today or send a message on the website to arrange an appointment. Help break the ear infection cycle for your child.