Recurring ear infections: What to do?

By: Rose Eapen, M.D., pediatric otolaryngologist, MemorialCare Miller Children’s & Women’s Hospital Long Beach

An ear infection occurs as a result of inflammation of the middle ear, caused by a virus or bacteria. Most children will experience at least one painful ear infection by age 5. During an ear infection fluid builds up behind the eardrum, which can result in these common symptoms:

  • Pain
  • Fever
  • Fussiness or irritability
  • Rubbing or tugging at an ear
  • Difficulty sleeping

Most ear infections resolve on their own with simple treatments like rest and over-the-counter pain relievers. However, more severe ear infections may need antibiotics. It’s important to be aware of the signs of a more severe ear infection and contact your child’s doctor if they are experiencing:

  • A fever of 102.2°F or higher
  • Discharge or fluid coming from the ear
  • Swelling or redness behind the ear
  • Symptoms that last for more than 2 – 3 days
  • Hearing loss
  • Lethargy

Many times, children struggle with repeated infections or persistent fluid, which over time can result in hearing loss and other long-term complications. When a child isn’t responding to treatment or experiences repeated infections, surgical treatment can help to prevent infections or lessen the frequency or severity of ear infections.

One of the most common procedures performed by ear, nose and throat (ENT) specialists is  myringotomy and tube placement. According to the American Academy of Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery, ear tube surgery is the most common childhood surgery performed with anesthesia.

A myringotomy is a surgical procedure that relieves pressure caused by the excessive build-up of fluid in the ears by making a small incision in the eardrum. After excess fluid is suctioned out, the ear tube is then inserted into the eardrum to allow air to reach the middle ear. The tubes fall out on their own, usually a year after they are placed. While they are in place, they work to prevent further ear infections and help children avoid long-term complications.

If your child has severe or recurring ear infections, it is important to talk to a pediatric ENT specialist, like the team at MemorialCare Miller Children’s & Women’s Hospital Long Beach who can help determine what treatment option is best for your child. The Ear, Nose & Throat (ENT) Program at Miller Children’s & Women’s is available to care for all your child’s needs including recurrent ear infections. The ENT Program provides a family centered care approach to all diagnostic evaluations and otolaryngology (ENT) surgical therapy for children of all ages with conditions of the head and neck, including the ears, nose and throat.

Should your child need surgery, it will be performed in the Surgical Center, which has seven state-of-the-art operating rooms designed just for kids, a pre-operative playroom, and a team of child life specialists who help lessen fears and anxieties of patients and their families through preparation and support. Through a process called medical play, child life specialists use simulated medical equipment, dolls, books and other teaching materials to help a child understand what may happen before, during and after surgery. We at Miller Children’s & Women’s have a great team and we look forward to caring for your children.

To learn more about the author, visit Dr. Rose Eapen’s web page.

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