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Pediatric Chronic Ear Disease

The childhood earaches many parents are familiar with are not usually a cause for alarm. They often result from otitis media (ear infection), a common ailment in children. Symptoms of otitis media include:

  • Fever
  • Irritability
  • Not eating
  • Tugging at the ear
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting

While your child’s ear infections may cause some sleepless nights, they are usually not dangerous. Otitis media is caused by blockage in the eustachian tubes, tiny passages that lead from the middle ear to the back of the throat (nasopharynx). Children’s eustachian tubes are narrower and more horizontal than an adult’s. As a result, a child’s tubes are more likely to become blocked with mucus, trapping fluid behind the eardrum. The buildup of fluid may cause infection, which may lead to temporary hearing loss.

There is often no need to treat otitis media in children. However, it is necessary to watch newborns carefully if they develop this condition as it may lead to meningitis. Fortunately, the problem is often caught in time. A look at the child’s eardrum by a physician usually reveals the problem and treatment can begin.

Otitis media occurs most often in children under age 10. Hearing loss as a result of chronic ear infections is rarely permanent, but it may interfere with speech and language development. This hearing loss goes away when the ear infection resolves itself or is properly treated. Children who had hearing loss because of ear infections usually catch up in their development of speech and language.

How We Can Help

How We Can Help

Pediatric Chronic Ear Disease Treatment Information

Ear infections are often the result of a cold. Simply waiting a few days gives your child’s body time to overcome the infection.

When earaches happen often, we may start treating with antibiotics. However, earaches can be caused by conditions other than otitis media. Before we use an antibiotic, we want to be certain the earache is caused by an infection that will respond to this type of drug.

Going to different physicians for earaches may result in your child being overmedicated. Frequent use of standard antibiotics may allow the bacteria that cause otitis media to become resistant to these drugs. When that happens, we need to use stronger antibiotics that may have more serious side effects.

If your child has frequently recurring ear infections despite the use of antibiotics, we may perform a minor surgical procedure that is usually very effective. In this procedure, we place ventilation or tympanostomy tubes (tiny tubes placed inside your child’s eustachian tubes) to drain fluid from the ear and allow air to pass freely in and out of the middle ear. Sometimes the eardrum forces the ventilation tubes out of place and we need to replace them with new tubes. Placing ventilation tubes is the most common procedure we perform at IU Health. Our experience and expertise are unmatched.

Ventilation tubes are not permanent. We usually leave them in for six to 18 months to allow time for complete healing of your child’s chronic ear infection. After we remove the tubes, the infection should not recur. Most of the time this procedure is successful, but in about 20 percent of children we need to put tubes in again.

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Pediatric Chronic Ear Disease Support Services

You want the best outcome for your child. Educating yourself about the causes of otitis media and its effects on your child may help you work more effectively with your physician.