Ear infections are extremely common in children. In fact, five out of six children will have at least one ear infection by their third birthday, according to the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders (NIDCD). Furthermore, ear infections are the most common reasons for parents to bring their child to the doctor.
Why Do Children Get So Many Ear Infections?
Middle ear infections occur when fluid becomes trapped in the middle ear and infected with bacteria. While this can happen to anyone, children are much more susceptible. There are two main reasons for this:
- Children’s Eustachian tubes – which equalize pressure in the ears and allow fluid to drain – are much shorter and more horizontal that adults’, meaning they have a harder time preventing fluid buildup.
- Children’s immune systems are still developing, and schools and daycares are prime spots to pick up viruses, which increase risk for ear infections due to swelling and inflammation in the structures of the ears.
What Are Ear Tubes?
For some children prone to ear infections, doctors recommend surgically-placed ear tubes. Ear tubes keep the opening the middle ear open, allowing airflow and fluid drainage. These tubes are tiny and made of metal or plastic. During surgery, a small hole is made in the eardrum, and the tube is inserted. The entire surgery takes 10-15 minutes.
This procedure is extremely safe and common. In fact, about two million ear tubes are placed in children in the U.S. each year.
What Are the Signs My Child Needs Ear Tubes?
There are usually three telltale signs physicians look out for to determine whether ear tubes are appropriate.
The Infections Keep Recurring
While doctors typically first recommend a wait-and-see approach or prescribe antibiotics for ear infections, sometimes these methods are not effective for clearing the infection and keeping it away. If your child’s ear infection returns right after it was seemingly resolved, ear tubes may be appropriate in order to prevent the child from developing antibiotic resistance.
There Is More than One Infection
In some cases, a child can have bacterial and viral ear infections that stack up; in other words, another infection starts when the previous one is still clearing. This can cause significant fluid buildup which is not only uncomfortable, it can impact hearing. Severe or stacked infections often warrant ear tubes.
Your Child Has Hearing Loss or a Speech Delay
If an ear infection or multiple ear infections cause fluid buildup that last for weeks or months, it can impact your child’s hearing. Many studies have shown that untreated hearing loss can lead to speech-language delays and problems later in school. If your child’s doctor identifies a hearing loss or speech-language problems, ear tubes will likely be recommended.
For more information or to schedule an appointment, call Topeka ENT today.