Understanding Pediatric Ear Infections
February is kids ENT (ear, nose and throat) health month. While there are many topics we could cover under the ENT umbrella, there is one that is particularly common in our office, ear infections.
Ear infections are the second most commonly diagnosed childhood illness in the United States. More than 3 out of 4 children will have had at least one ear infection by the time they reach the age of 3.
In order to understand why ear infections happen, it is important to first understand the ear and how it works. The ear is responsible for hearing and balance and is made up of three parts, the outer ear, the middle ear and the inner ear. Sound waves enter the outer ear and travel through the ear canal to the middle ear where the ossicles amplify the sound and carry them to the inner ear. The inner ear then changes the sound waves to electrical impulses, which are sent to the brain to be interpreted as sound.
In order to function properly the middle ear must remain the same pressure as the outside. This is why our ears pop when we are on a plane. It is the Eustachian tubes adjusting to the change in pressure. These tubes are also responsible for the drainage of mucus to the back of the throat as they are all connected. If a blockage occurs in the Eustachian tube, fluid can build-up trapping bacteria, which then multiply.
Ear infections are common in children because their Eustachian tubes are shorter, narrower and less rigid. This makes a quicker journey for bacteria from the throat to the middle ear and makes it more difficult to clear. The adenoids, which are gland-like structures located near the Eustachian tube are large and can also interfere with the tubes opening.
The signs and symptoms of an ear infection vary based upon the age of the child. Younger children may tug at their ears while older children may say their ear hurts. Chewing, lying down and sucking can exacerbate the child’s discomfort. If the fluid buildup gets high enough the eardrum can rupture, which results in drainage from the ear, relieving pressure.
Ear infections are not contagious and can take 7-8 days for both the infection and pain to subside. Not all ear infections require antibiotics. If an ear infection is suspected, especially when combined with fever, it is important to visit the doctor to properly diagnose treatment. Children with persistent ear infections should be evaluated by their pediatric provider to determine if ear tube surgery is warranted.
Your child’s health is important to us. If you have questions or would like to learn more, please contact us at (910) 486-5437 or visit us online at http://www.rainbowpeds.net.