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Hearing Blog

Understanding ear infection

February 7, 2024

Adults and children will most likely experience an ear infection.  In fact, 80% of children will have one before they reach 6 years of age.   Over 50% of them will have a severe infection before they are 3 years old.   If a child under the age of 7 gets an ear infection and it goes untreated it can leave the child with long lasting side effects.

Ear infections happen when fluid builds up on the middle ear side of the eardrum.  This produces bacteria and swelling of the middle ear.  There are different types of ear infections.  Acute Otitis Media is the most frequent diagnosis in babies and preschoolers.  The fluid trapped behind the eardrum creates bacteria.  This bacteria lessens the strength of the vibrations of the eardrum, thus, resulting in short term hearing loss.  When the infection is clear then the hearing typically will return to normal.  If the infection worsens then the build up of fluid can cause the eardrum to bulge and possibly to perforate.  This is usually painful.  If the cycle repeats and there are multiple perforations then the eardrum may not move properly, thus creating a conductive hearing loss.  If the perforations do not heal by themselves then surgery will be required. 

Otitis Media with effusion is not an ear infection but rather a condition that occurs when the fluid gets clogged in your middle ear because your Eustachian tube is not draining.  The fluid can last for months after the infection is gone.

Usually there is no pain.  Typically the only sign of any issue is difficulty hearing.  A small child may not tell you they can not hear.  Watch for tell tale signs... turning up the tv, not producing sounds or words right.  They also may rub or tug on their ears.  Otitis Media with effusion is not usually associated with permanent hearing loss but if re-occurring ear infections take place it can lead to scarring of the eardrum (tympanosclerosis), language delay or speech difficulties, cysts in the middle ear, or damage to the ear causing hearing loss.

If the fluid stays in the middle ear for a long period of time or the infection keeps coming back then if is called CHRONIC otitis media with effusion.   If not dealt with it could lead to a permanent hearing loss and possibly deter the central auditory system from obtaining its’ full potential.

So keep an eye out on the little ones in your lives.  A few tell-tale signs that something may be wrong with their ears:  Fuzzy or grouchy behavior,  Fever, Red outer ear,  Pulling at the ear,  Lack of appetite,  Balance issues, Trouble hearing you or the tv,  Ignoring you,  Fluid draining from the ear. 

When kids are in groups like daycare, and school they are prone to catching upper respiratory infections.  They may have a runny nose, be stuffed up or have a cough.  The upper respiratory infection then moves and develops into otitis media.   Teach your children to wash their hands whenever possible, keep them away from their face and to sneeze into their elbow.  If you suspect a problem call their pediatrician or your family physician pronto and stop it in its track!


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