What Makes Children More Susceptible to Ear Infections?

Ear infections can be painful no matter how old you are, but for kids, the discomfort can be intense. Unfortunately, kids also tend to be a lot more prone to ear infections than adults. In fact, the National Institutes of Health says about five out of every six kids has at least one ear infection by the time they’re three years old. Ear infections occur so often in kids, they’re the number-one reason parents take their kids to the doctor. But what is it that makes kids so prone to ear infections? And is there anything you can do as a parent to reduce your child’s risks?

Types of ear infections

The ear can be divided into three main “sections”: the outer ear, the middle ear, and the inner ear.

Ear infections in kids

Kids tend to develop more ear infections than adults for several reasons. First, the eustachian tubes in children tend to be more horizontal than they are in adults. That makes it a lot harder for fluid to drain from the ear to the throat. If the child also has a throat infection, a cold, or another type of upper respiratory infection, excess mucus and swelling of the mucous membranes can block the tube entirely. What’s more, when a child is very young, they may not know how to properly blow their nose, which can make it hard for the eustachian tube to clear itself.

The immune system may also play a role. Most children are still developing a stronger immune system, which means their immunity to colds and infections tends naturally to be lower than most adults. As a result, children can be more prone to many types of illnesses, including ear infections. Some ear infections occur when germs get “caught” in small glands called adenoids, which are located at the back of the mouth, where the nose meets the throat. Adenoids are part of the immune system, and if they get infected, they can pass those germs on to the ear via the eustachian tubes.

Preventing ear infections

As a parent, you want to do all you can to prevent your child from getting sick. But when it comes to ear infections, a child’s growing anatomy plays a role beyond a parent's control. As your child grows, the eustachian tubes become more vertical, which means it’s a lot easier for the child's ears to drain. Their immune system also gets stronger with age. And younger kids eventually learn how to blow their noses. Until then, the best way to prevent your kids from getting a really bad infection is to bring them in at the first sign of an earache (which is typically the earliest symptom of an infection). Early treatment prevents the infection from spreading to the inner ear, and it can also prevent scarring, which could interfere with hearing.

At DOCCS, we begin treatment with an evaluation of your child’s symptoms and the ear itself. When we determine an infection is present, we typically prescribe antibiotics and ear drops to get rid of the “bad” germs. We may also provide other medicine to relieve discomfort and fever. If your child has chronic ear infections, we may recommend a more in-depth evaluation to determine if additional treatment is warranted. Don't let an earache go untreated. If your child has ear pain, book an appointment online today.

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