Kids Health Watch is brought to you by our friends and Children’s Medical Group
Ear infections are a common, and sometimes painful occurrence in childhood. To understand more about ear infections, let’s first talk about the anatomy of the ear. When you look at the ear, you are looking at the external ear. The external ear leads to the ear canal, which is where ear wax is located. This canal leads to the parts of the internal ear, which are covered by the tympanic membrane, or “eardrum .”The tympanic membrane is what your child’s pediatrician uses the otoscope to look at when looking at your child’s ear. The tympanic membrane helps protect the auditory bones and also helps with hearing. Just on the other side of the tympanic membrane is a space that holds your auditory bones (which help with hearing and balance). The most important part of the ear when you are talking about ear infections is what is called the eustachian tube. The eustachian tube connects that inner ear to the nasal cavity.
An ear infection typically occurs after a common cold. This is where the anatomy of the ear is important. When you have a cold, congestion occurs in the nasal cavity and sinuses – which can then push up through the eustachian tube to the ears. When an ear infection occurs, the fluid collects in the cavity with the inner ear. The fluid that collects in the ear can then become infected with bacteria.
When a child has an ear infection, it has usually followed a cold and typically has symptoms of worsened congestion, runny nose, cough, ear pain, sleeplessness, and fever. Typically there is no a way to relieve the pressure, and that is what causes pain.
The reason why young children are so prone to ear infections is because of that eustachian tube. When children are first born, the eustachian tube is short where the nasal cavity and ear are very close together – so fluid does not have to move very far to enter the ear. And it is also more horizontal. Then, as a child grows, their eustachian tube elongates and becomes more angled, which protects most older children and adults from recurrent ear infections.
There are generally two types of ear infections – viral and bacterial. Viral requires pain control and time to improve. Bacterial ear infections require an antibiotic to resolve. Your child’s pediatrician will help to determine what type of ear infection your child may have and what is the best course of action.