Ear infections are one of the most common childhood complaints, with 80% of children experiencing at least one ear infection before they reach three years of age. Ear infections are also the most common reason for pediatric visits for young children, accounting for more than 30 million doctor visits every year.
The ear, nose, and throat specialists at ENT of New Orleans, with offices in Chalmette, Harvey, New Orleans, and Marrero, Louisiana, can diagnose the cause behind your child’s frequent ear infections and help come up with a solution that offers lasting relief.
Types of middle ear infections
Middle ear infections are commonly known as otitis media, or OM. Your child can present with:
- Acute otitis media (AOM), which often includes fever, balance issues, and ear pulling
- Otitis media with effusion (OME), which typically occurs after AOM due to retained fluid
- Chronic otitis media with effusion (COME), which causes recurring ear infections
While you may take your child to the pediatrician for AOM, OME and COME are why you should always request a follow-up visit to check for remaining fluid trapped behind the eardrum.
Common causes of ear infections
Eustachian tubes, which connect the middle ear with the back of the nasal passages to equalize pressure, are smaller and more horizontal in children than in adults. The slightest bit of swelling and inflammation can cause these tubes to become blocked, cutting off drainage from the middle ear and causing fluid to build up behind the eardrum.
If your child has a cold, sore throat, or any sort of upper respiratory infection, even if it’s a virus, bacteria can be attracted to the sinuses and travel to the middle ear, causing fluid build-up and inflammation. This is known as a secondary ear infection, since it’s a result of an initial infection of another type.
Reasons for chronic ear infections
If your child has recurring ear infections (generally defined as having five or more infections annually), it could be caused by their environment or lifestyle. Children who are exposed to secondhand smoke on a regular basis, or who are given a bottle or sippy cup while they’re lying down are at higher risk for chronic ear infections.
Making changes in your child’s environment or changing their habits can help reduce the incidence of ear infections. If necessary, your pediatrician may discuss the possibility of inserting tiny drainage tubes in the ears to keep fluid from building up. These are only temporary, staying in place up to nine months, then falling out on their own. The doctor will check your child’s ears regularly while they have tubes in.
Your child’s adenoids (a patch of tissue at the back of the nasal passage) could also be swollen, blocking air flow to the middle ear. If this is the case, your pediatrician may recommend their removal.
Adenoidectomies are only performed if the ear infections are very severe and/or very frequent, and the operation is only completed on children under the age of seven years. (After that age, adenoids begin to shrink naturally, becoming just a vestigial organ in adults.)
Need help with your child’s recurring ear infections? Simply schedule a consultation with the team at ENT of New Orleans by calling the location closest to you, or by requesting an appointment online.