Ear infections occur more frequently in children than adults because their eustachian tubes — the funnels that link the pharynx to the middle ear — are shorter, narrower and more horizontal than in adults. This particular alignment can impede the flow of air and fluids through the tubes, and as the fluid pools, bacteria grow and cause infection.
Ear infections are the No. 1 reason for emergency room visits for children. Pediatrician Dr. Jim Sears and plastic surgeon and ear, nose, and throat specialist Dr. Drew Ordon demonstrate how an ear infection forms and how to determine if your child has one.
ER physician Dr. Travis Stork explains that his rule of thumb is: "Colds and middle ear infections go hand in hand, just as swimming pools and swimmer's ear go hand in hand."
Middle Ear Infections
Signs of middle ear infections include fever and cold symptoms and a bulging eardrum. The most common form of treatment is to observe for a few days to allow the infection to clear on its own. However, if a child has a high fever and severe pain, then antibiotics may be prescribed.
Dr. Ordon explains what causes middle ear infections and how to correct them.
Symptoms of a middle ear infection:
Outer Ear Infection/ Swimmer's Ear
An outer ear infection, or otitis externa, is commonly called swimmer's ear and is a painful infection of the ear canal. If the ear canal is swollen and it hurts to wiggle the tragus the prominence in front of the external opening of the ear — the ailment is most likely an outer ear infection, which is treated with drops. See what swimmer's ear looks like inside the ear canal.
How to prevent swimmer's ear:
Labyrinthitis is the inflammation of the inner ear. Commonly caused by a viral or bacterial inner ear infection or upper respiratory infection, the symptoms of labyrinthitis are similar to those of vertigo. Vertigo is the sensation that your surroundings are spinning uncontrollably and is often accompanied by nausea and vomiting. The condition is usually attributed to a problem with the inner ear and occurs most often in people over 60. Fifty percent of adults will experience vertigo in their lifetime, 70 percent of whom are women.
Ear Infections in Babies
f your baby comes down with an ear infection, it may be due to the way you're holding him or her while bottle-feeding. If your baby is lying too far back, the milk can pool in the eustachian tubes, which can lead to infection.
By repositioning the baby to an upright position, you can help prevent future ear infections.
Dr. Sears' tips for preventing ear infections:
An Eardoc device can be placed at the back of the ear, and emits vibrations that help open up the Eustachian tube and allows fluid to drain.
Learn about more treatments for chronic ear infections.
Ear Tube Surgery
Chronic ear infections are the most common bacterial infection in children and occur when fluid build up in the middle ear. Not only are they painful, but they can cause permanent hearing loss. physicians can surgically insert ear tubes, or shunts, into the ears to alleviate and/or drain the Eustachian tubes. The tubes ventilate the area behind the eardrum and equalize the pressure in the middle ear.
Dr. Nina Shapiro, director of pediatric otolaryngology at UCLA Medical Center in Los Angeles, performs an ear tube surgery on 2-year-old Madison, which will allow Madison's ear to drain and prevent future infections.
Dr. Shapiro demonstrates how the ear tube procedure works. "We make a little opening in the eardrum, and that drains out the fluid, and we put the little tubes in," Dr. Shapiro says. "It's sort of like putting a button in a button hole; it just sits in the ear. The tube creates a constant opening between the outside world and the inside world of the middle ear."
Although the surgery takes approximately 15 minutes, general anesthesia is required, so talk to your doctor about the risks and benefits of the procedure.
Another option is laser surgery. Otolaryngologist Dr. Bob Owens performed a cutting-edge CO2 laser procedure to repair a 14-year-old's middle ear.
"The problem is that her little bones of hearing were not transmitting sound," Dr. Owens explains. "We can use the laser to free up the little bones so they actually vibrate, and when that happens, sound is transferred in. We actually replaced her third little bone with a little prosthesis."