Ear infections are often caused by fluid that is trapped in a child’s middle ear. This is a common problem in young children. Fluid build-up comes from poor Eustachian tube function. The Eustachian tube runs from the back of the nose to the middle ear. That’s how the middle ear ventilates. A child’s Eustachian tube is not fully formed. As a result, it has a hard time getting air into the middle ear space. As the air goes back into the body, the air isn’t replaced and it causes negative pressure in the middle ear. That causes fluid to build up.
Fluid in the middle ear makes it hard for children to hear and that, in turn, can impair speech and language development. In addition, because the fluid doesn’t drain, it gets infected over and over.
Here are some common myths about ear infections in children.
Lots of things can cause ear pain. Referred ear pain, from a sore tooth or a headache, can be the culprit rather than an ear infection.
It is possible for the fluid in the ear to be clear of infection. However, if it stays in the middle ear long enough, it often will become infected.
Antibiotics kill bacteria, this much is true. But, if the fluid doesn’t drain, the child’s body will produce more bacteria that cause infection. Antibiotics treat the current infection but they don’t fix the underlying problem.
In many cases, ear tubes are just the thing to help a child’s ear work the way it’s supposed to. The tube improves hearing right away, and it can keep the ear drum open so that proper drainage occurs. Ear tubes typically are effective at fixing the underlying problem.
Ear tubes actually open the ear up so that topical drops can go right to the source of infection and treat it. Combination therapy is usually extremely beneficial.
This is only true if the drainage is linked to an infection that needs to be treated with antibiotics. However, if there is no drainage or fever a child can go to school, and even shower normally.
In the time before antibiotics existed, ear infections were dangerous because they could lead to meningitis. With antibiotics today, that is rare. Antibiotics cure the current infection, so it is recommended that they be used to treat ear infections and prevent further complications.
Because ear tubes work so well for small children, they are still widely used. Roughly 10% of kids will have temporary ear tubes inserted.
The tubes merely support the Eustachian tube so the ear can function properly. Tubes also help children with persistent fluid in the ears to hear better. If children can’t hear they may face challenges with speech and language development. Children with other challenges or learning delays also benefit from tubes when they have persistent fluid on the ear.