Children are more susceptible to upper-respiratory and ear infections, and it’s during cold and flu season that upper-respiratory infections crop up, which can lead to ear infections. Symptoms include fever, pain, fussiness, pulling on the ears, and even vomiting and nausea. These infections can lead to temporary hearing loss, but if they happen very often in the most extreme cases there can be permanent hearing loss. Treatment includes antibiotics plus a decongestant, or numbing and antibiotic eardrops, or surgery.
A typical case would be a child with multiple ear infections we will call Amanda. Antibiotics took care of her first, second and third infections. But four different antibiotics, including antibiotic shots, couldn’t cure her most recent infection. At that point, the pediatrician recommended evaluation by an ear, nose and throat specialist. At the time of the examination, hearing was also tested, and a hearing loss was present due to the infected fluid in the ears. Therefore, Dr. Wyatt recommended that tubes be placed in Amanda’s ears to help ventilate and drain the fluid trapped in her ears. In most cases, this will eliminate the infection, prevent it from returning, and correct the hearing loss. Following the surgery, a number of improvements in the child’s behavior are often seen. Having fluid in the ears can hinder the development of a child’s vocabulary and cause balance problems that slow the progress of learning to walk. Many ear infections, which can be caused by a virus or bacteria, happen in the middle ear. The infection happens when fluid cannot drain from the middle ear and becomes stagnant.
One reason children are more susceptible to recurring infections is because the anatomy of their ears makes it difficult for fluid to drain. The fluid drains out of the Eustachian tube, which connects the middle ear to the throat. The tube also helps ventilate the ear. The angle of the tube is more horizontal in kids than in adults; that can hinder drainage and create a breeding ground for infection. Children’s immune systems aren’t fully developed and have trouble fighting off infections.
The first “peak” in ear infections is in babies 13 to 15 months, and a second peak between 4 and 6 years old. Studies suggest that children who are exposed to cigarette smoke and those who go to day care have a greater risk for ear infections. Children are usually sent to an ear, nose and throat specialist if they have had five or six ear infections in less than 12 months, or if they are becoming resistant to antibiotics or are having overlapping ear infections. Any symptoms of hearing loss also need to be evaluated.