Virtually every child reaching the age of three has had at least one ear infection. That amounts to over 80%, making otitis media (middle ear infection) a common childhood condition. Unlike a common cold, however, ear infections carry more risk of long-term complications.
While ear infections often resolve on their own, it’s possible for an infection to spread or for related hearing problems to linger as a result of permanent damage. Avoiding ear infections altogether is the best path, though it’s not always possible due to conditions in your child’s developing body.
Dr. Ugonma Okparaocha and her team at Laurel Pediatric & Teen Medical Center in Bel Air, Maryland, can help with diagnosis and treatment when an ear infection strikes, and they can help you recognize when a common infection becomes a problem.
Ear infection symptoms
Ear infections can occur before some children can communicate the discomfort or pain they’re feeling. Observing their behavior may be the best way to recognize a problem. When a child complains of ear pain, it’s easy to suspect an infection. There are often nonverbal clues as well, such as:
- Pulling, tugging, or cupping their ears
- Sleep pattern disruptions
- Increased crying or fussiness mixed with other signs
- Stumbling or falling more than usual, suggesting balance problems
- Reduced response to normal voice levels or quiet sounds
- Fever as well as other symptoms
- Fluid drainage from their ear
Reasons for recurrence
In most ear infections, fluid accumulates behind your child’s eardrum. The excess fluid normally drains through their eustachian tubes, passageways between their ear and throat that allow stable air pressure inside their ear as well as providing drainage.
When their eustachian tubes become blocked, pressure can’t equalize between the middle ear and outside air. Pressure differences and accumulated fluid cause the aching and pain your child feels.
Your child’s eustachian tubes are small as their bodies develop, yet they face the same fluid drainage as an adult’s ears do. This smaller diameter creates issues that will naturally resolve as they grow.
The eustachian tubes are also closer to level in young bodies, so gravity can’t assist ear drainage. This also changes as your child’s body matures. In addition, genetic variations can affect a child’s eustachian tube size and shape.
A haven for bacteria
Reduced ear drainage creates ideal conditions for bacteria to grow. A child’s developing immune system may have trouble suppressing this growth when they’re young. Something as simple as a cold can create mucus blocks, creating conditions under which bacteria can thrive.
When an infection lingers
Middle ear infections can heal naturally on their own, but sometimes they can develop beyond the ordinary. Schedule a visit to Laurel Pediatric & Teen Medical Center if your child encounters symptoms like:
- An infection before reaching six months of age
- Distressing pain
- Earache symptoms that last more than a day
- Ear problems that continue after a cold
- Blood, fluid, or pus draining from their ear
Ear infections are easy to treat before complications set in, so set up an exam for your child at the earliest signs of trouble. Contact our office by phone or request an appointment online today.