Causes of Ear Infections in Children

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If you have a child, you are going to deal with ear infections from time-to-time. In fact, ear infections are the most common reason children go to the doctor. In recent decades, the rate of children getting ear infections has been on the rise. Doctors aren’t sure why, but it may be because of an increase in allergies. About 90 percent of children will get at least one ear infection by the time they are 4 years old.


About Ear Infections

Ear infections, also called otitis media, are bacterial or viral infections of the middle ear, behind the eardrum. They hurt because of fluid buildup and inflammation. If your child is older than 6 months and has mild symptoms, wait two or three days to determine whether the infection clears up by itself. During this time, you can place a warm washcloth over the ear and give your child acetaminophen or ibuprofen to relieve the pain. If there is no improvement, take your child to the doctor, who typically prescribes an antibiotic and prescription ear drops. The reason doctors suggest waiting two or three days instead of giving antibiotics right away is because germs can become resistant to antibiotics. You should only use them when necessary.

Age

Generally, children start getting ear infections when they are between 6 and 18 months old. The Eustachian tube connects the back of the nose to the middle ear. This tube is shorter in a young child; therefore, more bacteria can get into the middle ear. The earlier a child gets an ear infection, the more susceptible he is to getting future ear infections. As a child ages, ear infections decrease. By the time children are 5, they typically don’t get ear infections often.

Risk Factors

Ear infections are more common in the fall and winter. An allergic child may be more prone to getting an ear infection because allergies can inflame the airways. A child in daycare is more likely to contract an ear infection, even though ear infections are not contagious, because ear infections can come from respiratory infections, some of which are contagious. The more risk factors your child has, the more likely it will be for her to get an ear infection.

Risk Factors You Control

If you smoke, you could make it more likely for your child to get an ear infection. Like allergies, cigarette smoke doesn’t cause an ear infection, but it can lead to irritation of the airways. Children who use a pacifier are more likely to develop an ear infection because the sucking increases saliva production, which helps bacteria get into the Eustachian tubes and into the middle ear. Putting your baby down to sleep with a bottle or letting your baby drink from the bottle while lying on his back, can also lead to an ear infection by fluid blocking the Eustachian tubes.

About Tube Surgery

Children who frequently have severe ear infections, which cause hearing loss and speech delay, may require tympanostomy tubes. The doctor surgically inserts tubes that allow the fluid to drain from the ear if the Eustachian tubes are unable to do this.

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