Ear Infection in Toddlers is Common but Requires Immediate Attention

The incidence of ear infection in toddlers has always been quite high and, in fact, it is the most common reason that a child of this age is likely to need a visit to the doctor during the first few years of his or her life.
Much of the problem is due to the fact that, at this stage in their development, their ear canals and Eustachian tubes are tiny and, in some cases, excessively so. This means that they provide the perfect refuge in which certain microorganisms are best able to thrive and this also makes treatment correspondingly more difficult.

Often any indication that there may be a problem is quite subtle and could amount to little more than a slight redness of the ear and a tendency for the child to keep touching it so parents need to be on the alert to even small behavioural changes and particularly vigilant if their child has previously been infected.

While ear infection in toddlers will normally respond quite quickly to treatment with a suitable antibiotic, the tiny internal architecture referred to earlier can often mean that small pockets of organisms may survive and so result in a further bout of illness at some later date. Furthermore, having survived the effects of the prescribed antimicrobial agent, there is always a risk that the entrenched organism will acquire a resistance to it and result in a hardier strain that may be far more difficult to eradicate.

These conditions, just as is the case with adults, will invariably give rise to some degree of deafness although infants are obviously unable to communicate the fact and may, perhaps, also be less aware of it. While normal hearing will normally be restored following successful treatment of the ear infection, in toddlers, this tendency to recur poses the more serious threat that the condition could become a chronic one and, in such cases, there is a very real risk that any accompanying deafness could become permanent.

Quite often, the best response in these chronic conditions will prove to be some form of intervention by an ENT specialist. After first making a tiny incision in the ear drum and aspirating all of the glue-like material that is blocking the child’s Eustachian tubes, he or she will then perform a procedure known as a myringotomy or, in lay terms, an insertion of grommets that provide ventilation to the middle ear and instantly improves hearing. The procedure may, in some cases, be extended to include removal of the adenoids – small clumps of glandular material that, when they become enlarged, can impede the natural drainage of the ear.

For handling recurrent ear infection in toddlers, myringotomy is a quick, minimally invasive and low-risk procedure that offers a child immediate relief from the temporary deafness associated with so-called ‘glue ear’ and one that can normally be conducted at a day clinic. As the child’s eardrum grows, the grommets loosen and will fall out after a few months allowing the eardrum to heal over.   Only where the condition persists and is associated with repeated colds and respiratory problems is adenoidectomy indicated.

Contact your GP or nearest Ear Institute without delay if you have any concerns regarding a possible ear infection in your toddler.

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