About five of every six children suffer at least one ear infection by the time they’re 3 years old, so if it seems that ear drops are a regular item on your pharmacy shopping list, you’re not alone. While many childhood earaches might be common, and since many clear up on their own, it’s important to know the cycle that ear infections usually follow, so you can respond to the issue appropriately.
Recognizing the symptoms
Since ear infections occur before many children have the vocabulary to communicate what they feel with accuracy, your observations may serve as the best guide. When a child tells you that their ear hurts, it’s simple enough to suspect an infection, but be aware of these nonverbal clues:
- Hands near or on their ears, including pulling, tugging, or cupping
- Disruptions in their normal sleep patterns
- Mood changes in the form of more frequent crying or fussiness
- Balance issues, or stumbling or falling more than usual
- Changes to hearing, such as being unresponsive to normal voice levels or quiet sounds
- Fever accompanying other symptoms
- Fluid drainage from the ear
A pressure situation
The most common type of ear infection traps accumulated fluid behind the eardrum. Normally, excess fluid in the middle ear drains by way of the eustachian tubes, passageways between the ear and the back of the throat that allows stable air pressure inside the ear.
When the eustachian tubes are blocked, pressure can’t equalize between the middle ear and the outside environment. This pressure difference, along with the pressure of accumulated fluid causes the aching and pain your child feels.
Your child’s ears
Some of the reasons behind frequent ear infections in children is simply their changing anatomy. When they’re young, their eustachian tubes are smaller, yet they may be subject to the same fluid drainage as an adult. It can come down to the “pipe size” of their eustachian tubes, and in time, their growing bodies naturally resolve this issue.
The eustachian tubes are also closer to level in children, meaning that there’s less help from gravity to drain their ears. This, too, is something that changes as their bodies mature. Some children may have genetic variations that aggravate one or both conditions, leading to more infections.
A perfect environment
This inefficient ear drainage creates ideal conditions for bacterial growth, something your child’s developing immune system may have trouble suppressing. A simple cold can create mucus blockages which then produce bacterial growth by blocking the ears. An earache that accompanies a cold may, in fact, be two different illnesses.
When to visit the doctor
It’s time to visit us at Wasatch Peak Family Practice if:
- Earache symptoms last more than a day
- Your child is in distress from the pain
- Your child is less than 6 months old
- Ear symptoms persist after a cold or other upper respiratory problem
- Fluid, pus, or blood drains from your child’s ear
You can call our practice by phone or request an appointment through the online booking tool located on this page. Though childhood ear infections are common and typically harmless, there are times when complications can arise, leading to hearing loss or other issues. Don’t wait. Contact us at Wasatch Peak Family Practice today.