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Ear Infections

Published in Pediatrics, For the Health of It, Otolaryngology (ENT)

Is your child pulling on their ears, fussy or running a temperature? They just might have an ear infection. Ever wonder what causes an ear infection and why kids are so prone to getting them?

What Causes Ear infections?

Ear infections usually start with the Eustachian tubes not functioning properly.  Inflammation leads to pressure, fluid builds and bacteria can cause an infection in the middle ear.  When there is fluid or pressure instead of air in the middle ear space, the ear drum and the ossicles (bones of hearing) just don’t vibrate properly.  When this happens, your child can experience temporary hearing loss.  Permanent hearing loss is not common but can be a result of complications from an ear infections, such as perforation of the ear drum, cholesteatoma (a collection of skin) or deposits in the ear drum or ossicles.

Why Do Young Children Seem to Get More Ear Infections?

Young children seem to get more ear infections because their Eustachian tubes are not mature.  Their Eustachian tube connects their ear to the back of the nose/throat area. It’s shorter and immature and in a horizontal position. It frequently doesn’t open and equalize pressure like it’s supposed to.  Healthy Eustachian tubes open and equalize pressure when we swallow and talk.

What Can I Do to Help Prevent Ear Infections?

  • Avoid exposure to smoke.  Children that are around smoke will have more problems because smoke is very irritating to the Eustachian tube.
  • Avoid letting your baby or young child lay down when drinking from a bottle or sippie cup. When they are drinking, fluid can irritate the Eustachian tube and cause problems.
  • Breast feeding your baby gives off maternal antibodies that can help reduce the number of ear infections your child may get.
  • Make sure that all immunizations are up to date.
  • Children that are in daycare are exposed to more germs and viruses that can cause ear infections.  If possible, minimize exposure during the cold and flu season.

Ear infections can be very painful and can make your child fussy and uncomfortable. If you are concerned that your child has had too many ear infections, it might be time to talk to an Ear Nose and Throat (ENT) specialist about other treatment options.