February 27, 2021
Ear Issues in Children
By Matt Stumpe, MD
February is Kids ENT (Ear, Nose, & Throat) Health month. I’d like to share some information about ear infections.
Approximately 2.2 million new cases of otitis media, fluid behind the ear drum, are diagnosed annually in the United States, with 50% to 90% of children affected by age 5. These problems manifest in many different ways including ear pain, sleep disruption, behavior problems, speech concerns, hearing concerns, and balance symptoms.
These ear problems are more likely in children due to the position and immaturity of their eustachian tube, the pressure release tube from the middle ear to the back of the nose. Children’s eustachian tubes are shorter, floppier, and more horizontal, making it less effective in ventilating and protecting the middle ear than that of an adult. These ear issues have the potential to cause damage to the ear drum, the ossicles (little bones of hearing), and formation of cholesteatoma (damaging cyst of the middle ear) if not addressed.
Factors that increase the risk of middle ear problems in children include pacifier use, daycare attendance, and smoking in the home. A preventative factor to help with middle ear problems is breastfeeding. As a child grows, the eustachian tube becomes longer, more rigid, and drains the middle ear at a diagonal angle to the back of the nose. Until this occurs, fluid may fill the middle ear space and a child may have difficulty clearing this. Fluid filling a child’s middle ear space is not improved by antibiotics, decongestants, steroids, chiropractic therapy, diet, herbal, or natural therapy. Antibiotics will help treat a bacterial infection of the middle ear space, but these medications are not always necessary and will not clear the fluid. The fluid will either clear naturally from the child’s middle ear or may require an ear tube with or without an adenoidectomy to be performed if this fluid persists.
Ear tubes drain the fluid built up behind the ear drum. These tubes also allow an alternative route through the ear drum instead of counting on the immature eustachian tube. These tubes typically last for a year and allow the eustachian tube to further mature. Adenoid tissue resides in the back of the nose near the nasal opening of the eustachian tube. Removing the adenoids surgically allows the eustachian tube to perform better and improve the health of the middle ear.
These therapies are available at William Newton Hospital in Winfield, KS. Please consult with a doctor for further recommendation about the appropriate treatment of a child.
Matt Stumpe, MD is a board certified otolaryngologist seeing patients every Tuesday at the Winfield Healthcare Center. If you have comments or story ideas, call 620-221-2300, ext. 1113, or e-mail. The "Weekend Check-Up" is a regular health column published in the Cowley Courier Traveler penned by employees and friends of William Newton Hospital.