Ear infections are so common, many Lexington parents probably wish their local ENT clinic installed a revolving door or offered a punch card, with every fifth visit free! If you have noticed that children are especially susceptible to ear infections, you are not mistaken. Five out of six children will have at least one ear infection by the age of three, making it the most common reason for a trip to the doctor’s office.
Otitis Media and Children
There are three different types of ear infections; while anybody can develop one, they are far more prevalent in children. We can blame this on their anatomy; the majority of ear infections are caused by fluid buildup in the Eustachian tube, a tiny canal that connects the middle ear to the nostrils. In kids, this tube is smaller, narrower, and lies in a more horizontal position, factors prohibiting fluid drainage and increasing the probability of an ear infection. Acute otitis media, the most common type, occurs when fluid becomes trapped behind the eardrum, causing infection and swelling. Otitis media with effusion may happen after an ear infection has run its course but fluid remains trapped behind the eardrum. Chronic otitis media with effusion results in persistent or recurrent fluid buildup even without an accompanying infection.
As if a narrow Eustachian tube weren’t enough, children’s tonsils and adenoids – tissues in the back of the throat that aid the immune system in the prevention of disease – are considerably larger than in adults. Their frequent contact with germs and viruses makes them susceptible to swelling, inflammation, and fluid buildup, which again can cause an ear infection.
Finally, kids in daycare and preschool settings come into frequent exposure with other children who are sick. It’s no wonder so many children in Lexington develop ear infections!
Ear infections are, as previously stated, much rarer in adults. They are usually caused by colds, flu, or allergies, all of which can lead to congestion and inflammation of the throat and sinuses. Smoking and environmental irritants such as air pollution can also lead to infection.
Treating Ear Infections
If you had an ear infection as a child, you might have been subject to aggressive treatment, possibly involving the removal of your tonsils or adenoids. This surgery may have been made more tolerable with the promise of all-you-can-eat ice cream afterwards. Antibiotics were also prescribed far more frequently.
Nowadays, your Lexington ear, nose, and throat specialist prefers to take a wait-and-see approach to treatment. Most ear infections will run their course in due time and don’t require the need for such aggressive measures. Instead, you’ll be urged to try a home remedy, such as a warm washcloth pressed against the ear to help reduce swelling and discomfort, and over-the-counter medications for pain relief. Chronic ear infections might require the placement of ear tubes to assist with drainage and ventilation.
Eventually, your kids will outgrow ear infections. Literally: the adenoids and tonsils shrink with age while the Eustachian tube grows larger, both of which reduce the occurrence of infections. In the meantime, your Lexington ENT doctor can provide treatment and relief from symptoms.