Infections of the ear represent a spectrum of diseases involving the outer, middle, and inner ears (the three major sections of the ear). For children, however, outer and middle ear problems are the more common causes for clinic consult. Two common issues are discussed below.
1. Otitis externa (OE). This involves redness and pain of the outer ear canal. The most common cause for this infection is loss of cerumen which protects the skin. Other common causes include swimming (which is why the disease is often called “swimmer’s ear”), trauma from using cotton buds, and dermatitis from inadvertent contact of hair sprays and perfumes to the ear canal. For this condition, your doctor will usually prescribe a topical antibiotic and an oral pain reliever.
2. Otitis media (OM). This is primarily a disease of early childhood. Let’s be technical for a bit for us to learn why. Our nose and throat are connected to the ear by a tube which acts to drain secretions from the middle ear. Unlike in adults, orientation of this tube is more horizontal in children. Hence, secretions from the nose and throat can easily reflux to the ear causing infection. Aside from that, young children still have an immature immune system that they lack the antibodies needed to fight those buggers commonly found in the nose.
A child with otitis media usually complains of fever, ear pain, or possibly ear discharge. Your pediatrician will usually prescribe oral antibiotics and pain reliever, but frequent otitis media and perforation of the ear drums will warrant a referral to an ENT. Dr. Rafanan advises that early referral and evaluation will decrease the risk for language delay caused by partial hearing loss.
It is very interesting to note that two very important factors can affect your child’s risk for developing OM. It has been found that breastfed infants have lower incidence of otitis media; hence it’s another motivation for mothers to breastfeed their babies. On the other hand, researchers have found that secondhand smoke increases the risk for a child to develop OM.