An occasional ear infection is nothing to be overly concerned about. However, if your child has more than three ear infections within six months or four ear infections within a year, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends taking your child to see an ENT specialist.
How Ear Infections are Treated
Middle ear infections are fairly common in children. Pediatricians have often prescribed antibiotics to treat ear infections. However, the AAP has recently changed its recommendations for treating ear infections in children. Instead of prescribing antibiotics, the AAP recommends taking a “wait and see” approach when ear infection symptoms are not too severe. Left on their own, almost 80 percent of ear infections will clear up within seven days. In many cases, 60 percent of children will feel better in about 24 hours.
What Causes Ear Infections?
Referred to as acute otitis media, a middle ear infection happens when there is swelling in the narrow passage that connects the middle ear to the throat. The swelling causes fluid and pressure to build up behind the eardrum. Normally, the swelling will go down on its own and the fluid will drain, which in turn, reduces the pressure in the ear(s). However, when the fluid doesn’t completely drain out, the infection will linger and can possibly become worse.
Some children are more predisposed to developing ear infections than others. Those who are exposed to a large number of children in daycare at a young age are more susceptible to developing ear infections. Additional risk factors include:
- Genetic disposition
- Exposure to smoking in the home
- Being male
- Formula feeding during early infancy
When to See an ENT Specialist
If your child suffers from recurrent ear infections, your pediatrician may recommend that you take your child to an ENT specialist. This does not always mean that your child will need to have ear tubes put into his or her ears. Children who have excess fluid in their ears, but no infection are generally not a candidate for ear tubes.
The ENT specialist will evaluate your child’s hearing, especially when fluid still persists in his or her ears after three months. When a hearing test uncovers that a child’s hearing threshold is 40 decibels or more, it may be time to consider seeing an ENT specialist to prevent further infections. He or she may recommend having your child evaluated for having tubes inserted in their ears. For a hearing threshold under 40 with the fluid present, the ENT specialist may recommend having monthly tests to monitor the fluid level.
It is always best to put off having tubes inserted in your child’s ears for as long as possible. Children with increased ear fluid levels do not always require ear tubes because fluid levels will usually decrease on their own.
If your pediatrician has recommended that your child see an ENT specialist or you have concerns about your child having frequent earaches, contact Iowa City ASC to schedule a consultation with our team of expert ENTs.