Pediatric Ear Infection
Middle ear infections, a.k.a. otitis media – Middle ear infections occur behind the ear drum and can be caused by either bacterial or viral infections. These infections may be triggered by allergies, infections elsewhere in the body, or a blocked Eustachian tube that connects the ear to the back of the nose. This is the most common type of infection in children, although it can occur in adults as well. In some cases fluid may linger in the middle ear and cause muffled hearing. Treatment of otitis media depends on the cause of the infection and ranges from oral antibiotics to surgical insertion of a pressure equalization tube to drain fluid from behind the ear drum. Often enlarged adenoid tissue in the back of the nose is the root cause of the problem by obstructing the Eustachian tube. In children, an adenoidectomy is sometimes necessary in conjunction with tubes.
Symptoms of Ear Infections in Children
- Pulling or tugging at the ear
- Hearing loss and reduced responsiveness to sound
- Drainage from the ear that is thick and yellow
- Ear Pain
- Difficulty sleeping
Placement of ear tubes (a.k.a. tympanostomy, myringotomy with tube placement, ventilation tubes, and pressure equalization tubes) is one of the most common procedures performed by ENT doctors. In children, it requires a very brief general anesthetic delivered by mask (no intubation, and usually no IV). It is a safe, quick, relatively painless procedure. Using a microscope, a tiny scalpel is used to make a small incision in the eardrum. Any fluid in the middle ear is suctioned out, and a small plastic tube is positioned into the hole in the eardrum.
Most tubes are designed to stay in place for 6-12 months, and the vast majority fall out on their own sometime during this time frame.
When are ear tubes needed?
Usually, ear tubes are recommended for one of the following reasons:
- Frequent ear infections requiring antibiotics
- Chronic fluid in the middle ear causing hearing loss or other symptoms
- Chronic problems with Eustachian tube dysfunction that may lead to permanent structural problems with the eardrum and hearing loss