Infants, toddlers, and young children are much more susceptible to ear infections than older children and adults. This is primarily due to the Eustachian tubes in younger children being more horizontal and narrow in shape. As such, the middle ear is more likely to trap fluid, which can incubate bacteria and lead to infection.
Most children will experience ear infections at some point or another. However, if ear infections become chronic, intervention may be necessary to allow fluid to drain from the ears, and to restore proper middle ear function. When such intervention is necessary, recurring ear infections are often dealt with by placing ear grommets.
Symptoms of Recurring Ear Infections
When infants and very young children feel ill, they sometimes cannot tell us what is going on. This is often because such young children have not developed speech yet, or do not have the language skills available to express exactly what they are experiencing. As such, it is important to be aware of the physical and behavioural signs of ear infections. These include:
- Crying and fussiness
- Fluid visibly draining from ears
- Waxy buildup
- Tugging or pulling at ears
- Poor balance and/or clumsiness
- Lack of response to sounds
- Trouble sleeping
Ear Infection in Infants
Often a child’s only means of communication is to cry and draw attention to what is hurting them, i.e. through touching their ears. The pain experienced from ear infections may keep them from sleeping, which can cause behavioural problems when they are awake.
The inner ear also governs balance. As such, if it is blocked with fluid, your child may experience balance issues and vertigo. If you notice these signs, then it is best to schedule an appointment with a doctor or an ear, nose, and throat specialist to check out your child.
Treatments for Chronic Ear Infections
If your child experiences a single ear infection, the course of action is simple – go to the doctor and have treatment prescribed. However, if your child is suffering from recurring ear infections, you can do one of three things.
Firstly, you can treat each infection individually as they come up. The logic here is that as your child grows and develops, they will most likely grow out of ear infections as their middle ear develops and the Eustachian tubes becomes vertical and larger. This option can be difficult as it is hard to watch your child suffer from ear infections repeatedly.
The second method does not involve surgery but does involve regular, prolonged medication, through putting your child on a regimen of low-dose antibiotics. These should prevent further infections, but some parents have issues putting their small child on a regular regimen of antibiotics like this. It is also important, if you choose this approach, not to miss any antibiotic doses. If you are not vigilant about giving your child their medication, they could become susceptible to infection again.
Although the idea of surgery can be a little bit frightening, the best option for reoccurring ear infections in children is often to have ear grommets placed. Grommets allow the middle ear to ventilate and function properly. In the event of infection grommets will allow the middle ears to drain fluid. The surgery is routine and safe. The grommets will usually fall out by themselves as your child’s ears develop and grow. This procedure is very effective and your child will feel better almost immediately after surgery.
What to Expect From Ear Grommet Surgery
Ear grommets, or ear tubes, are shaped like tiny spools. When grommets are inserted, a tiny opening is made in the eardrums. The surgery is minor that your child should be back to normal and able to return to school or daycare the next day. You will have scheduled follow-up visits with your ent specialist and eventually the grommets will come out on their own as your child’s ears grow. In almost all cases, the openings in the eardrums will heal and will not cause any hearing problems.
To find out more about grommet placement surgery make an appointment to see our ear, nose and throat specialist.