Many ear problems begin in children when they are still under the age of two. Often times Upper Respiratory Infections, allergies, and being exposed to cigarette smoke can cause swelling in the lining of the Eustachian tube which prevents it from opening and equalizing pressure in the ear. Another problem can be attributed to the muscles in the throat of a young child not having the proper angle to open the Eustachian tubes when swallowing which may lead to recurring ear infections. Most children often grow out of this problem as their head grows and the angle of their Eustachian tubes changes so that the throat muscles can open the tubes more efficiently.
Otitis Media is the medical term for middle ear infection which is one of the most common illnesses in children. These infections are most often caused by Eustachian Tube Dysfunction as mentioned at the onset. When air cannot get into the Eustachian tube then the pressure in the middle ear continues to fall which pulls inwardly on the eardrum and the hearing bones (ossicles) causing them to stiffen, resulting in muffled hearing. If this pressure continues it can draw fluid from the capillaries in the lining of the middle ear and as it remains there this can cause hearing loss which varies from person to person. Often times in young children there may be no pain associated with the hearing loss which may cause this problem to escape detection. Over prolonged periods of time this can lead to delays in speech development, interfere with language skills and cause learning difficulties. When discovered, one option to remedy the problem may be the placement of tubes in the ears so as to relieve the hearing loss.
If fluid in the ears does not subside then bacteria may enter the middle ear causing the lining to swell. The body’s natural infection fighting white blood cells may produce more pressure which may cause pulsing pain in the ear. This is called Acute Otitis Media. Antibiotics might be prescribed or the ears may be drained of the fluid by the doctor or eventually by the natural process of draining out of the Eustachian tubes.
Sometimes after an ear infection clears up, a thick mucus like fluid may remain in the middle ear for several months. There is usually no pain or fever associated with this which is worrisome because if not discovered soon enough it can cause significant hearing loss, and more severe speech, language, and learning disabilities. When this is the case, tympanostomy tubes are often placed in the eardrums. This is called Otisis Media with Effusion, which is the kind that my husband has.
In children under 10 years old tubes are usually put in the eardrums under anesthesia in an operating room. For children over that age they are usually put in at the doctors office. The tubes will often fall out within 6 to 12 months when they are swept away by the moving cells within the ear which pushes them out of the eardrum. Many children grow out of these ear problems by 2 years of age and the remaining majority by 6 to 8 years old. For some whose Eustachian tubes never work properly, they may , hear and feel better and have fewer ear infections if they have tubes in their ears for their whole life. There are more permanent tubes that may remain in place 2 to 4 years. This will reduce the number of times tubes need to be placed in their ears thru out ones lifetime.
As you can see, it is important for parents to be attentive to any signs of ear problems that their child may have such as indications that their hearing isn’t as good as it should be. If these problems are discovered early it can prevent a lifetime of problems that can be so damaging to ones life in so many different ways. In upcoming posts I will discuss more severe ear problems as well as the variety of ways they can effect a persons life. Do you have any experiences you would like to share? Stay Posted