Ear infections are a common childhood experience. In fact, more than 80% of children develop at least one ear infection (medically known as otitis media) by the time they reach three years old. Ear infections are painful and can cause complications ranging from a fever to a damaged eardrum. The good news is, though, that they’re treatable if you seek medical attention.
At Oasis Ear, Nose, and Throat in Surprise, Arizona, otolaryngologists Dr. James Osborne and Dr. Bryan Smedley specialize in treating pediatric ENT conditions, offering kid-friendly evaluations, diagnoses, and treatments for conditions such as ear infections. It’s important that you recognize when your child’s ear infection reaches a point that they need medical attention, so the staff has put together this guide to help get you in the know.
The middle ground of ear infections
The ear contains three parts: outer, middle, and inner. The outer ear is the visible part outside the head, along with the ear canal. The middle ear is located inside the head, behind the eardrum, a thin membrane that stretches across the end of the ear canal and has a role in perceiving sounds. The inner ear further refines sound and sends electrical signals to the brain.
Ear infections most commonly develop in the middle ear. If a bacterium or a virus gets trapped in the middle ear, the area fills with fluid and pus, causing inflammation, a feeling of pressure, and pain (because the eardrum is very sensitive).
The eustachian tubes are ducts that connect the ears to the throat, and they drain excess fluid from the ears. An infection — or even acid reflux or allergies — can make the eustachian tubes swell, preventing the mucus from draining properly. In addition, the eustachian tubes are part of the reason kids get ear infections so readily: their tubes are flatter than adults, which means they don’t drain as well to begin with.
What symptoms are caused by an ear infection?
Ear pain is the primary symptom of a middle ear infection because of the pressure on the eardrum. Other symptoms include:
- Difficulty eating, drinking, or sleeping: all cause painful pressure changes in the middle ear
If the fluid pressure increases high enough, it can rupture the eardrum, and you’ll see fluid draining from the ear. Your child may also feel dizzy, nauseated, and/or have ringing or buzzing in the ear.
When to seek medical attention for your child’s ear infections
Obviously, an older child can simply tell you when their ear hurts, but infants and toddlers can’t. What they can do is show you that they’re uncomfortable or in pain, by tugging or rubbing their ear, fussing more than usual, and/or refusing to eat or drink. And if you see fluid coming from the ear, you know it’s likely an infected middle ear.
Middle ear infections often disappear on their own within 2-3 days, so if your child is in pain but not too miserable, you might want to take a “wait-and-see” approach. If the infection lasts longer than this, or if you have an infant or toddler who can’t communicate the severity of their misery, it’s important to bring them into Oasis ENT for an evaluation and potential treatment at the onset of symptoms.
And if ever you’re not sure whether you should come in or not, contact our office, and we can help you determine whether one of our doctors needs to see your little one right away or not. Give us a call at 623-234-4640, or book an appointment online with us today.