Tue. Oct 3rd, 2023
Ear infections are a common problem for children.  Here's what parents need to know.

Ear infections are The most common reason Parents take their child to the doctor. Indeed, the data shows it 5 out of 6 children They will have at least one ear infection by their third birthday, making childhood earache a common problem for families.

With that said, doctors say it’s crucial for parents to know some basics about childhood ear infections. “Although they’ve been around forever, the guidelines for how to treat them, especially in infants and younger children, have changed over the years,” Dr. Anjuli Ganz, MD, a pediatrician at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, tells Yahoo Live. “Understanding the causes, symptoms, and treatment options can enable parents to know exactly what needs to be done every step of the way for their child.”

Why do ear infections occur in childhood?

There are several reasons for the occurrence of ear infections in childhood, Dr.. Daniel Fisher, pediatrician and chief of pediatrics at Providence Saint John’s Health Center in Santa Monica, Calif., told Yahoo Life. “Ear infections usually occur in sick children,” she says. “It is not uncommon to see a healthy child with an ear infection.” (The exception, she says, is swimmer’s ear, though this tends to be more common in older children.)

Anatomy doesn’t help, Gans adds. “We all have Eustachian tubes that connect our nose and throat to the middle ear,” she says. In young children, the Eustachian tubes are smaller and flatter than those of adults, “which allows viruses or bacteria to enter more easily,” explains Gans. Babies also have larger adenoids — tonsil-like structures — at the back of their nose and throat. This, she says, “can prevent the Eustachian tubes from killing germs.”

Symptoms of ear infections in childhood

These infections can be difficult to detect in young children. “Because ear infections often affect infants and young children, they may not be able to point directly at their ears or tell their parents that their ears hurt,” says Cohen, MD, director of the Pediatric Hearing Loss Clinic. And authorized, tells Yahoo Live. That’s why he recommends looking out for these symptoms in children:

  • irritability

  • Lack of sleep

  • lack of appetite

  • Fever

Infants and young children may pull their ears or stick their fingers in their ears if they have an ear infection, Fisher says.

Treatments for ear infections in childhood

It’s important to see your child’s pediatrician if you suspect they have an ear infection, Fisher says. There, they can be appropriately diagnosed and treated.

“Most acute ear infections are treated with oral antibiotics,” says Cohen. “In addition, symptoms can be treated with pain medication such as Tylenol or ibuprofen, in addition to good hydration and supportive care.”

If you find your child has a lot of ear infections, it’s important to let his doctor know about it, if he hasn’t already talked to you about it. “Current guidelines suggest referral to a specialist after three injuries within a six-month period, or four injuries within a year,” says Cohen. “Also, children with ear infections that do not respond to multiple courses of antibiotics or persist for more than three weeks should be referred to a specialist.”

What happens from there will vary, but doctors often recommend that you consider placing tubes in your child’s ears. “This can help prevent future ear infections by equalizing pressure,” says Fisher.

Inserting tubes into your child’s ears involves a surgical procedure that places a small ventilation tube in the eardrum to improve airflow and prevent fluid buildup in the middle ear, according to the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders (NIDCD). The organization says most tubes stay in place for six to nine months until they fall out.

Are ear infections contagious?

The infection itself, Fisher says, is not contagious. “It’s usually the viral incident that triggers the infection,” she says. Meaning, if your child’s ear infection is caused by a cold, RSV virus, the flu, or something similar, you may get that illness—but not an ear infection—because of them.

Research and developments

There is currently no vaccine to prevent ear infections. However, the The NIDCD recommends vaccinating children against influenzaas well as research on the PCV13 vaccine, which protects against types of infection-causing bacteria that can contribute to ear infections.

Researchers in Australia are Working on a new vaccine To help prevent ear infections in children, though, it’s not likely to be ready anytime soon. “It would be difficult to develop a single, single vaccine for all ear infections,” says Gans. “Ear infections can have many causes and depend on a complex combination of genes, personal medical history, exposure, and anatomy.”

The NIDCD says doctors are also exploring what’s going on in the ears of children who have frequent ear infections. They have identified colonies of antibiotic-resistant bacteria, called biofilms, that are present in the middle ear of most children with chronic ear infections and are now working to understand how to attack and kill these biofilms.

What are takeaways?

Children usually outgrow ear infections, Cohen says. “As children grow, Eustachian tube function generally improves, so most children begin to outgrow ear infections by 2 to 3 years of age,” he says.

Fisher hopes children will have more choices in the future. “Our goal is to never get ear infections — they’re miserable and not fun,” she says. “We don’t want the children to suffer.”

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