Of all the ailments of childhood, ear infections are certainly among the most common. According to the National Institutes of Health, about five out of every six kids will develop at least one ear infection by the time they reach their third birthday. What’s more, ear infections are the most common reason for kids’ sick visits to their doctor.
It’s one thing to recognize how common ear infections are during childhood — it’s another thing to understand why they happen so frequently. At ENT Specialists, we help Utah kids get the care they need for ear infections by providing treatment aimed at the underlying cause of their infections. Here’s what you need to know about why ear infections are so common in kids.
Why ears get infected
Most ear infections occur on the inside of the ear structure, in an area known as the middle ear. Middle ear infections can be acute or chronic, which means they recur or happen on a regular basis. Typically, middle ear infections occur when bacteria (or less often, viruses) make their way from the upper respiratory system — usually the mouth or the nose — into the ear structures. Once there, the warm, moist environment allows the germs to multiply rapidly, resulting in an infection.
Many ear infections occur after a child has a cold or a sore throat. When the infection reaches the ear, your child may have a fever, earache, or a sensation of fullness inside the ear. They may have difficulty hearing, and in some cases, fluid might drain from the ear. Very young children tend to be very fussy or irritable, and they may pull or tug on their ear.
Why kids get more infections
One of the primary reasons why children get more ear infections than adults is because their ear structures have not yet finished developing and growing. When germs move from the upper respiratory tract into the ear, they travel through small channels called eustachian tubes. These tubes help drain excess fluid from inside the ear, and they also provide air to the inner ear, balancing air pressure between the ear and the sinuses.
In children, the eustachian tubes are smaller, so it’s easier for them to get blocked by mucus or from swelling during an infection. When the tubes swell, it’s much harder for fluid to drain — and it’s also easier for germs to build up and cause infection. The eustachian tubes are also flatter or more horizontal during childhood, which also makes it harder for fluid (and germs) to drain away.
During childhood, the immune system isn’t as developed as it is during adulthood, and that may also play a role in ear infections in kids. Many infections involve the tonsils or adenoids, located at the back of the throat. When an infection causes these structures to swell, they can block drainage from the ear, too.
Most ear infections clear up with medication and rest. However, if your child has frequent ear infections, the doctor might recommend a simple procedure to insert tubes to allow the middle ear to drain better. In other cases, the doctor might recommend tonsil or adenoid removal to prevent future infections.
Don’t delay treatment for an ear infection
While a very mild ear infection may clear up on its own, most infections need prompt medical treatment to prevent more serious infections from occurring. Delaying care could result in a deeper infection, along with complications like scarring and hearing loss. If your child has an ear infection, we can help. Call ENT Specialists or use our online form to book an appointment at one of our Utah locations today.