The general cause for an ear infection in toddlers and young children, is the common cold. When infected fluid or pus gets accumulated behind the eardrum, which is situated in the middle part of the ear, an ear infection happens. The Eustachian tube or middle ear is connected to the nose and throat and is in a horizontal position in young children.
Consequently, the fluid accumulation and infection, spreads to the ear. The bacteria and viruses that enter the Eustachian tube along with the fluid accumulation, breeds here causing the ear infection.
The inflammation that occurs because of the infection is called Otitis Media. The symptoms are pain, redness of the eardrum and sometimes fever. In more chronic cases Acute Otitis Media can last anywhere from 6 weeks to even longer.
Frequency of Ear Infection
A toddler or young child getting an ear infection, once or twice a year is normal. If the child has 3 episodes in a period of 6 months or 4 episodes in a year, then it is a chronic infection. The reason for such frequent reoccurrence could be that the ear infection did not completely clear away and is still lingering on, or it could be a series of separate infections, occurring.
Possible Risks for Ear Infections Occurring
- Day Care Centers – children who go to day care, are exposed to more germs, in comparison to the children who stay home.
- Exposure to Smoke – Exposure to cigarette smoke makes the child more vulnerable to ear infections, as it affects the child’s immune system. It is also possible that the irritants in the smoke may prevent the infection from clearing out.
- Genetics – If there is a family history of ear infections, then it follows the child will also be at high risk of getting one.
- Gender Related Risk – As per statistics, boys tend to be at a higher risk for ear infections in comparison to the girls. The reason for this anomaly is not known as yet.
- Infection through Siblings – Older siblings are also a source of germ bearers or carriers.
- Allergies – Allergies cause the Eustachian tube or the upper airways to be infected or irritated.
- Cold or Winter Season – Children living in regions where it is cold or wintery, often suffer from upper respiratory infections, which normally are a precursor to ear infections.
- Age – matters as children below the age of 18 months are more likely to get ear infection, as their immune system is yet to develop and they have smaller Eustachian tubes.
- Premature Babies – Premature babies are more disposed to get ear infections.
- Other Health Problems – poor health undermines the immune system of the child and thus makes the child be more susceptible to ear infections.
Long Term Effects of Ear Infections
Buildup of chronic fluids or chronic ear infections could cause hearing issues, which may be a cause in speech delays.
- A wait and see approach, where the doctor may not prescribe antibiotics immediately but may prescribe just pain relievers, anticipating that the infection will go away on its own in 2-3 days.
- If the ear infection persists, then antibiotics will be prescribed.
- In some cases the ENT (Ear, Nose and Throat Specialist) may surgically drain the fluid from the ear and insert an ear tube, which will fall out on its own, as the child grows. The tubes are a temporary solution.