Understanding Children’s Ear Infections

Your child has a sore throat and runny nose. You assume it’s just another common cold, so you give the recommended dosages of cold medicine. But after seven days or so, the symptoms haven’t improved.  Although the runny nose may have slacked off, your child is increasingly irritable, can’t sleep, and complains of an ear ache. Ear infections are a common affliction, especially for young children but in most cases it can be easily treated. Even though it’s a common problem, however, they should not be ignored. An untreated ear infection can become serious and could lead potentially lead to hearing loss.

Typical symptoms of an ear infection can initially mimic those of a serious cold, such as sore throat and fever. In fact, ear infections occur as a result of respiratory or cold infections which spread to the middle ear and cause it to become inflamed. Mucus and swelling that occurs in the common cold or infection block the tubes to the ears, preventing proper drainage. The drainage collects in the middle ear, which can create pain. This pain can often become quite sever and could get even worse if the infection is left untreated.

Most children will have at least one occurrence of ear infection – medically known as “otitis media” – before they are three years old. Doctors believe that young children are more sensitive to otitis media because their Eustachian tube, which connects the upper throat to the inner ear, is much shorter in kids than adults. A child who suffers from ear infections regularly could need ear-tube surgery. The routine procedure involves draining excess fluid from the clogged tube and placing small tubes in the eardrums to equalize pressure and allow for ventilation.

If your child comes down with an ear infection, rest assured that they are often relatively simple to treat. The bad news is, if left untreated, the consequences can be serious. An infection in the middle ear can lead to decreased hearing. Long, extended periods of hearing loss in children can lead to developmental delays, particularly in speech. In the most severe cases, an untreated ear infection can lead to permanent hearing loss.

If your child complains of an earache, make an appointment with a doctor as soon as possible so treatment can begin. Children with ear infections will typically complain of pain in the throat of behind the ears. Other symptoms include pulling or rubbing the ears, ear fluid, changes in appetite, difficulty hearing, changes in sleep patterns, and irritability. Children who are exposed to group child-care and secondhand smoke are at greater risk.

Infections typically begin with an upper respiratory infection or common cold. If you’re treating your child for these conditions and notice that the symptoms haven’t improved in a reasonable amount of time and have turned into pain in or around the ears, it’s wise to schedule an appointment as soon as possible before it develops into something more serious. A physician who specializes in the ear, nose and throat is probably best.

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