Middle ear infections (otitis media) are common infections in children and generally follow an upper respiratory tract infection (common cold). In fact, this condition accounts for most of the antibiotic prescriptions written by pediatricians and other health care professionals.
The ear is divided into three areas or compartments. The external ear consists of the auricle (the part we can see) and the ear canal. The middle area consists of the tympanic membrane (eardrum) and the space directly behind the eardrum which has the three smallest bones in our body. These bones help transit sound to the inner ear cavity which contains our balance mechanism (cochlear) and other components to allow us to hear.
The middle ear is naturally a warm and moist area that viruses and bacteria love to take up home. They travel the course that generally begins in the nose or sinuses and the throat. From there they can travel through the Eustachian tube (a sort or pressure valve) that runs from the back of the throat to the middle ear( When your ears “pop” while traveling to the mountains the Eustachian tube is doing its job)!
Risk factors for developing an ear infection in young children and babies starts with the fact that their Eustachian tube is more horizontal than the adults, allowing traveling “bugs” an easier passage. Bottle fed babies are more at risk compared to breast fed babies, certainly allowing your baby or toddler to drink from a bottle while lying down is also a huge factor. We’ve all been tempted, it’s late, you want to sleep, and it’s so easy to just let your child drink herself to sleep while in the crib or bed. Don’t do it! Not only are you putting them at risk for an ear infection but also “bottle rot” which is severe tooth decay from excessive contact between the bottle nipple and their teeth as they fall asleep with it still in their mouth. Exposure to second hand smoke, allergies and a family history (yourself or spouse had a lot of ear infections growing up).
Ear infections are generally quite painful and cause a low grade fever. Children’s Tylenol or Ibuprofen may help alleviate much of the discomfort until you can get your child to their provider. Left without the proper treatment these infections can lead to scarring of the eardrum and repetitive cases can lead to hearing loss; rarely can they lead to a very severe infection of the covering of the brain called meningitis. Good rules of thumb is that if you’re thinking about a possible ear infection in your child then take them in! An ounce of prevention…
Brett Davis, Physician Assistant (Sophia’s Dad)