Treatment options for your child's ear infections

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Before Benjamin started daycare I could count in one hand the amount of times he had gotten sick. Two. Nowadays it seems like my life revolves around a tissue box, not only does he get sick, but he shares the germs with Tim and I often.
His pediatrician assures me that it is perfectly normal for toddlers, and children in general,  to get sick when they start daycare, and he even tries to comfort me by saying that every cold he gets now is one less he will get in kindergarten. Being as it may, Tim and I were pretty scared the night (they always get sick at night, don’t they?) that a fever and his screams landed us in the emergency room.
If you are not a first time parent as we are, you have probably guessed that what Ben had was a cold that turned into an ear infection, one of the most frustrating and common health issues that a parent has to deal with, and if you aren't of the initiated yet, count yourself among the lucky few. The National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders (NIDCD) states that 5 out of 6 children experience at least one ear infection before the age of 3. That is a lot of kids – and parents – dealing with this painful condition.
To make things more difficult, there isn't a solitary, identifiable cause of pediatric ear infections. Childhood susceptibility to ear infections is often attributed to the configuration of a child's ear canal. In an adult, the Eustachian tube, the channel connecting the ear to the nose, angles down. This allows debris, fluid and secretions to flow from the ear down to the nostrils. In children, though, this tube tends to be horizontal. Without a downward tilt, fluid and other substances can accumulate rather than travel down and out of the nostrils. Large adenoids can also contribute to blockages, which can lead to infections. 
A less common (but serious) cause of ear infections, especially in toddlers, is a foreign body in the ear. One California mom noticed her daughter was crying more often than usual and generally in a bad mood. After being referred to an ear, nose, and throat (ENT) physician, she discovered that her daughter had placed the battery of a hearing aid in her own ear. The firmly lodged battery damaged the ear drum and caused earwax, bacteria, and sloughed skin to buildup and cause an ear infection. The mom wore hearing aids herself and suspected that her daughter was trying to mimic her morning routine. 
The symptoms of ear infections can be difficult to identify. According to the website of Alaska Center for Ear, Nose & Throat (ACENT) in Anchorage, children may only show subtle signs of an ear infection, such as irritability or a low-grade fever. If you notice changes in your child's behavior that might indicate an ear infection, be sure to take him or her to their primary care provider. If your child suffers from chronic ear infections, it may be best to seek the care of an ENT specialist. The site goes on to say that frequent ear infections, even if they resolve, can interfere with normal speech development. 
Fortunately, there are quite a few treatment options available to limit your child's discomfort from occasional ear infections, and to prevent chronic or recurrent ear infections:
At-home Treatment
Most viral ear infections resolve on their own within 1 or 2 weeks. Symptoms usually improve within the first 2 or 3 days, and you can help this along with measures like warm compresses, pain medications, and ear drops. However, if you don't know how long the infection has been active or your child is in agonizing pain, you should contact your physician. The same applies if you know your child is prone to recurrent ear infections since these may not clear up without intervention.
Antibiotics are usually prescribed for bacterial ear infections, or for other ear infections with severe symptoms. Unlike viral ear infections, bacterial ear infections clear up quickly with a course of antibiotics. 
Ear Tubes
These gommet-like devices are an effective and nonpermanent choice for kids with recurrent ear infections. Ear tubes, or tympanostomy tubes, open up the ear drum to help prevent fluid buildup and reduce the risk of future ear infections. The tubes are placed through a minor outpatient procedure that can be done using local anesthetic, or brief general anesthetic for children. The tubes are intended to fall out after 6 to 12 months so there is no need for a second removal procedure. The American Academy of Otolaryngology - Head and Neck Surgery has more in depth information on ear tubes. 
Adenoid Removal
In some cases, an adenoidectomy may be the best option to help tackle recurrent ear infections. An adenoidectomy is a procedure that surgically removes the adenoids, which are a mass of tissue located on the back wall of your nasal cavity. Sometimes a child's adenoids are very large, or become repeatedly infected, or both, leading to blockage of the Eustachian tube. This build-up of fluid can lead to sinus infections and ear infections. After careful consideration, a physician may recommend removing a child's adenoids to reduce the incidence of ear infections in some cases. 
Fascinating, the things that we get to know once we become parents! Of course, no matter which course of action you choose, it is always important to consult with your child's physician to make sure that the strategy you choose is the best choice given your child's medical history. 
I hope that this information sheds some light on how to treat this common, yet annoying part of raising a child. Just remember that kids need to be exposed to viruses to build their immune systems, and in the process yours might get a boost too.

*This post is sponsored by Alaska Center for Ear, Nose, and Throat (ACENT). Thank you for supporting the brands and businesses that make Living Alaska possible.


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