This is part 2 of the series on the ear, covering the middle ear infections that cause young children and their parents so much pain.
Why Are Ear Infections More Common in Babies?
So why do babies and young children get so many middle ear infections? There are several reasons. The first is that babies’ heads are shaped differently, making it harder for their Eustachian tubes to drain. This is made worse by the fact that babies spend a lot of time lying down.
Another reason is that they get sick a lot. Babies’ bodies are getting used to a world full of germs and learning how to fight them off. Some are better at this than others.
The final reason is reflux, or spit up. Babies do this a lot, and even when it’s not coming out of the mouth and landing on bystanders, it’s often happening at the back of their throats, hitting the Eustachian tubes. Scientists have actually found stomach enzymes in the ear fluid of young children with ear infections. That is probably a major reason some babies have more ear infections than others.
How Do You Treat Ear Infections?
So how are middle ear infections treated? If you ask any person (or doctor for that matter), they’ll say ear infections are treated with antibiotics. But my faithful listeners should know better, remembering from the antibiotic podcast that a significant percentage of ear infections will actually clear up without antibiotics.
If I find an ear infection on a routine exam of a child who is not sick, I usually don’t treat it. But if a child (or adult, for that matter) has significant pain and/or fever with it, the standard of care is still to use an oral antibiotic.
Unfortunately, some people get lots of ear infections, requiring repeated use of antibiotics. Need I remind you that this can cause evil mutant armies of resistant bacteria to emerge?
Ear Tubes and Ear Infections
For people with repeated ear infections, ear tubes may be good to consider. These tubes go through the eardrum and do the job of the Eustachian tubes, equalizing the pressure and allowing the fluid to drain out of the middle ear. Two of my kids got tubes; believe me, they work incredibly well. They have the added benefit of decreasing the use of antibiotics because they greatly reduce the number of middle-ear infections.