Referred to as otitis media, middle ear infections are highly common in young children between the ages of 6 months and 3 years old. Most ear infections begin as simple ailments such as the common cold.
Young children are prone to ear infections as they have immature eustachian tubes. The eustachian tubes connect the middle ear to the back part of the nose. They help protect the middle ear from bacteria and viruses and also help equalize the pressure in the middle ear with that of the outside environment. In children, the eustachian tubes are shorter and more horizontally oriented. These configurations allow bacteria and viruses to get into the middle ear more easily. In addition, a child’s immune system is still developing and they may not be able to fight off bacteria and common viruses. Common symptoms of middle ear infections include ear pain, loss of hearing, irritability, fever of unknown origin, trouble sleeping and frequent ear tugging. If the symptoms become worse or persist, it is advisable to bring your child to an ENT Specialist who is comfortable handling young children.
But as the adage goes, prevention is better than cure. So, we’ve listed four ways to help you prevent ear infections in children.
1. Breastfeed your young ones
During the first 6 to 12 months of life, breastfeed the little one as much as possible. Antibodies in breastmilk help children build strong immunity and fight off ailments, including reducing the rate of ear infections. If breastfeeding is not an option for some mothers, you can bottle-feed your child in an upright, sitting position. Feeding in the horizontal position can cause the fluid to flow back up into the Eustachian tube from the back of the nose to the middle ear.
2. Keep them away from second-hand tobacco smoke
Smoking is bad for anyone’s health. But did you know that second-hand smoke can affect not only you but also your child? When your child passes by or sits next to someone who is smoking, second-hand smoke affects their noses, lungs and ears. Passive smoking can increase the frequency and the severity of ear infections, as the tubes in the ear become inflamed and block up. It can also cause more frequent and severe asthma attacks as well as respiratory infections. Try to avoid other forms of air pollution too.
3. Limit the use of pacifier
Studies have shown that the use of pacifiers can lead to higher risk for ear infections. Limit pacifier usage to a brief period (e.g. when the infant is falling asleep) and wean your baby off the pacifier early if possible to reduce the risk of middle ear infections.
4. Keep an eye on hygiene
Wash your child’s hands as well as your own regularly with soap and water. By doing so, the spread of germs can be reduced, thus preventing your child from easily catching a cold or the flu. Clean up the child’s surroundings often – germs and bacteria thrive in dirty and dusty areas. Implement good hygiene practices and wash or wipe down the things your child uses often.
5. Control nose allergies
Nose allergies (medically known as Allergic Rhinitis) are very common in children and the mucous and inflammation in the nose can cause eustachian tube blockage. This can result in viral or bacterial infection of the middle ear. To control nasal alleriges, it is important to keep the house clean by washing the bedsheets and pillow cases regularly, minimizing clutter and avoiding soft toys in children with sensitive nose. The use of antihistamines and nasal steroid sprays may be necessary in some children.
Treatment for middle ear infections
Most middle ear infections resolve on its own. It is important to ensure that your child’s symptoms are adequately controlled with pain reliever and medications to keep his or her fever under control. If your child’s symptoms do not improve, a visit to the general practitioner is necessary. The treatment of middle ear infections may involve oral antibiotics, pain relievers, fever medications and nasal decongestants.
If your child has trouble hearing, learning difficulties in school (sometimes may present as delayed in speech and language development) or has frequent ear infections, a visit to an ENT specialist in Singapore is recommended. For frequent middle ear infections or fluid collection in the middle ear (otitis media with effusion) that fails to resolve with medications, the child may need a ventilation tube placed on the eardrum. This helps to maintain normal air pressure and assist fluid drainage from the middle ear.