Have you noticed an increase in crying spells, clutching the ear while wincing in pain, pulling on ear, sleeplessness, irritability, fever, lack of balance, or hearing loss in your infant or child? These are all common symptoms of an ear infection, otitis media. Ear infections are the most common reason for a visit to the pediatrician, other than wellness baby visits. Ear infections occur when the Eustachian tube, connecting the middle ear to the back of the throat, traps fluid in the middle ear. Ear infections are often secondary to common cold or flu due to germs from the nose or sinus cavities climbing up the Eustachian tube.
Read more for risk factors, causes, and treatment for otitis media:
Risk Factors of otitis media:
- Children between the ages 6-36 months
- Individuals with a family history of ear infections
- Babies who are bottle-fed instead of breastfed
- Children who attend day care centers
- Exposure to cigarette smoke or high levels of air pollution
- Abnormalities with the palate such as cleft palate
- Recently having a cold, flu, or sinus infection
- Experiencing changes in altitude or climate
Causes of otitis media
- As mentioned above, if the Eustachian tube is clogged it may cause poor air ventilation leading to a warm, damp environment in the middle ear. Therefore, germs can form in the middle ear causing infection.
- Ear infections occur most frequently in infants and children because the Eustachian tube is often too soft to stay open long enough for the air to pass through.
- The Eustachian tube may become swollen or clogged for many reasons, including:
- Upper respiratory viral infection such as cold or flu
- Allergies: pollen, dust, animal, or food
- Smoke, fumes, or other environmental toxins
- Infected or enlarged adenoids
- Infants drinking while laying down
There are three different types of otitis media: acute, recurrent, and otitis media effusion. Acute otitis media is a single, isolated ear infection that may become a recurrent otitis media if it occurs at least three times in a six-month period. Otitis media effusion is when fluid remains in the ear secondary to ventilation issues but germs not yet manifested.
- If acute otitis media, your doctor may suggest over-the-counter ear drops, over-the-counter pain relievers, or prescribed antibiotics if persist for a few days.
- If recurrent otitis media or otitis media effusion, surgery may be indicated. A procedure called myringotomy inserts tiny tubs into the child’s ears to allow air and fluid to drain from the middle ear. The tube allows airflow in the middle ear keeping it dry.
Prevention of Otitis Media:
- Wash hands and toys frequently
- Avoid cigarette smoke
- Seasonal flu shots
- Breastfeed infants instead of bottle-feeding if possible
- Limit pacifier use
Early identification and treatment of ear infections are crucial to prevent further problems down the road such as recurrent ear infection, ruptured eardrum, growth in the middle ear, and speech delays. Contact your pediatrician if you suspect your child has an ear infection. If hearing loss or speech delay occurs, contact Lumiere Children’s therapy for a consultation with one of our speech therapists.
“Ear Infections: Diagnosis and Treatment.” WebMD. WebMD, n.d. Web. 26 July 2017.
Kivi, Rose, and Winnie Yu. “Acute Otitis Media.” Healthline. Healthline Media, 05 Jan. 2016. Web. 26 July 2017.