What exactly is an ear infection?
There are several types of ear infections, but the most common — technically called acute otitis media — usually develops along with a cold or other upper-respiratory infection, when the lining of the eustachian tube (the tube that connects the middle ear to the nose and the back of the throat) swells and gets blocked up. The blockage causes fluid to accumulate in the middle ear behind the eardrum, which then becomes a breeding ground for germs. The pain and temporary hearing loss your toddler sometimes experiences is due to the blocked fluid putting pressure on the eardrum; the fever your child often develops is due to the infection in the middle ear that his little body is fighting. Note that your tot could have excess fluid in the middle ear without that fluid becoming infected.
Ear infections are one of the most common illnesses among children in the US. Young kids are much more prone to them than older kids and adults because the tubes in children’s ears are shorter and smaller, making it easier for fluid to get trapped and build up. Most kids have at least one ear infection by the time they turn two.
Why might my toddler have chronic ear infections?
No one knows exactly why one child gets more ear infections than another — or why one child’s ear infections may linger — but the following factors can raise the risk.
- Day care. Kids in day care are exposed to more germs and bugs than kids who don’t go to day care.
- Living with a smoker. It’s unclear why secondhand smoke ups the incidence of ear infections, but exposure to cigarette smoke may affect a child’s immune system and make him more vulnerable. It’s also possible that irritants in the smoke make it hard for a child’s ears to clear out an infection.
- Family history of ear infections.
- Allergies. They can cause the upper airways and eustachian tubes to become inflamed or irritated.
- Siblings. Having one or more siblings means more germs brought into the household.
- Living in areas with long winters. Kids in these regions often get more upper-respiratory infections, which usually precede ear infections.
- Gender. Boys tend to get more ear infections than girls, though experts don’t know the reason.
- Age. Children younger than 18 months are more prone to ear infections than older kids because babies’ and young toddlers’ immune systems are less developed and their eustachian tubes are smaller.
- Other underlying health problems.s They may compromise a child’s immunity and make him more susceptible to ear infections.
- Premature birth. Children who were born prematurely tend to have more ear infections than other kids.