In children, ear infections usually occur when the tubes that normally drain fluid from the ear (the Eustachian tubes) don’t work properly, resulting in fluid buildup that provides an ideal environment for germ growth. In adults, these tubes slope downward so fluid drains more effectively. But in children, the tubes are in a more horizontal position which makes drainage more difficult. Because the sinuses and the ears share some important connections, colds, and allergies that cause stuffiness can also trigger ear infections when mucus backs up and provides a breeding ground for bacteria. In addition, children’s immune systems are still developing, which can make them more prone to ear infections compared to adults.
Ear infections can cause different symptoms depending upon which part of the ear is affected. The most common type of ear infection involves the middle portion of the ear, occurring when germs become trapped behind the eardrum. Middle ear infections are often accompanied by a sore throat or throat infection, and they can be quite painful. Ear infections that occur in the outer portion of the ear can cause the ear to become red, swollen and painful. Inner ear infections affect the innermost portion of the ear and can even spread to the brain. No matter where they occur, ear infections often cause symptoms like drainage, feelings of stuffiness in the ear, temporary hearing loss and dizziness, and sometimes fever.
Most ear infections can be treated with antibiotics which can be administered as pills or as ear or nose drops. When infections are severe or recurrent, surgery may be recommended to implant tiny tubes inside the ears to promote better fluid drainage and to prevent scarring that can cause permanent hearing loss. Special devices called ear wicks are also used to enable medication to reach the site of the infection more easily.
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