What Causes Ear Infections?

Portland parents with young children are probably familiar with many kid-related activities: trips to the zoo, carnival rides and Elephant Ears at the Rose Festival, and visits to the ENT clinic for help with ear infections. The sad fact is, children are extremely susceptible to ear infections; they are the number one reason parents take their kids to the doctor in Portland and across the country. Understanding what causes ear infections might save you a few trips to your friendly neighborhood ear, nose, and throat practice.

Why Do Kids Get So Many Ear Infections?

Child with an ear infection in Portland Children aren’t the only ones who develop ear infections, but they definitely have a corner on the market. We can blame this on a number of factors, chief among them being anatomy. The Eustachian tube – a small canal that connects the middle ear to the nostrils – is responsible for regulating pressure in the ears and allowing fluids to drain. In kids, this organ is narrower and lies more horizontally than in adults, making it prone to swelling and inflammation and limiting drainage. In addition, the adenoids – tissues in the back of the nose – are larger in children. Because these tissues aid the immune system in preventing disease, they are exposed to a wide variety of germs, which can also cause swelling, inflammation, and blockages. Kids’ underdeveloped immune systems also contribute to the increased likelihood of ear infections, especially when they are exposed to germs in daycare and other group care settings, as well as the classroom. While ear infections are much more common in children, adults are not completely immune. Colds, flu, and allergies can all cause congestion and inflammation of the throat, sinuses, and Eustachian tube. Individuals with seasonal allergies are especially susceptible, as are smokers and those exposed to excessive air pollution and other environmental irritants.

Treating Ear Infections

Traditionally, ear infections have been treated aggressively with medications or antibiotics. But ENT physicians often prefer to take a wait-and-see approach nowadays, as most infections clear up on their own after a few days. To help ease a child’s discomfort, you can try using a warm washcloth as a compress and offer them over-the-counter medications for pain. Stick to ibuprofen or acetaminophen; children should never be given aspirin. Antibiotics will be given for bacterial infections. Ear tubes may be recommended for kids who are especially prone to ear infections; these are inserted surgically to help with drainage and ventilation, and should fall out on their own after six months to two years. If you or your child are suffering from an ear infection in Portland, contact your ear, nose, and throat physician for relief.