Ear infections in children, especially young children usually in the pre-elementary school age, is a common problem and many parents wonder why it affects their children, will it hurt their child’s hearing, and what can be done to help it resolve.
Ear infections in children can start at any age but are usually uncommon under the age of 6 months. Common symptoms in young children are fussiness, poor sleep, low grade fevers, runny nose and pulling or tugging at the ears. Drainage from the ears is not common in this age range.
Why causes ear infections in children?
Although the cause of ear infections in young children can be multifactorial the most common cause is poor functioning of the Eustachian tube. The Eustachian tube equalizes pressure in the ear. When you feel your ear pop in an elevator this is the Eustachian tube at work. In some small children the anatomy of the Eustachian tube does not equalize pressure efficiently.
If the Eustachian tube fails to equalize pressure fluid will build up in the ear. If the fluid stays long enough it can become infected with both viruses and bacteria. Although treatment with antibiotics and some other medications can eradicate some bacterial infections, fluid buildup due to allergies and infections due to viruses will persist. Repeat ear infections in children may occur if the fluid does not resolve.
Children who attend day care regularly are more at risk for repeat infections because their exposure to viruses and bacteria is increased. Children with bad nasal allergies are also at increased risk for repetitive ear infections.
Do ear infections in children affect hearing and speech?
The simple answer is yes. When fluid builds up in the ear a conductive hearing loss occurs. Basically this means that the ear does not transmit the entire spectrum of sound to the brain. Children develop speech based upon hearing spoken words and repeating what they have heard.
The fortunate thing is conductive hearing loss is reversible with appropriate recognition and treatment. Very infrequently does a permanent hearing loss occur when ear infections are diagnosed and treated appropriately.
How do ear tubes work?
It’s a common misperception that the purpose of ear tubes is to allow the ears to drain. Ear, Nose and Throat doctors place ear tubes to allow the pressure in the ear to equalize so that fluid will quit building up in the ear. If the fluid quits accumulating the sequence of repetitive infections can be broken.
What are the indications for ear tubes?
Common indications are the following:
- Repetitive ear infections
- Fevers associated with ear infections
- Need for a parent or care giver to repeatedly miss work to attend to a sick child with an ear infection
- Multiple trips to the doctor for diagnosis and treatment with antibiotics
- Complications from antibiotics including rashes, diarrhea, yeast infections, and inability of your child to take an antibiotic
- Allergies to antibiotics
- Expense of multiple antibiotics
- Possibility of developing antibiotic resistant bacteria
- Conductive hearing loss with evidence of speech delay
Does my child need surgery to have ear tubes placed?
Yes, ear tubes are performed in an operating room with the benefit of anesthesia. It is a very short operation, usually less than 5 minutes.
Will my child’s hearing improve after ear tubes are placed?
If the hearing loss is only a conductive loss then yes, the hearing will improve after ear tube surgery
If you have questions about your child, please call our office to set-up a consultation at one of our three convenient locations.