Most all kids get ear infections at one point in their lives. The condition is generally not serious and will typically clear up on its own after awhile or with the use of antibiotics. Sometimes, though, ear infections can be a sign that your child may need surgery to install an ear tube to help correct the problem with his or her inner ear that's contributing to them. Here are two things to look out for.
Chronic Ear Infections
According to the experts, five out six kids will develop at least one ear infection by the time they turn three years old; that's how normal and prevalent this condition is. However, if your child gets too many infections within a short period of time (three or more within a few months) or the infections don't appear to be healing normally even with medication, that indicates there is a problem.
This is because the infection causes fluid to build up in the middle part of the ear. If this fluid doesn't drain completely or at all, it maintains a friendly environment for the bacteria, leading to chronic infection. In some cases, the fluid doesn't drain from the ear because the canal is either too small or malformed, which is why ear tubes may be needed to alleviate the issue.
Of course, though, you need to first eliminate other possible causes of the infections besides a middle ear issue. For instance, kids develop frequent ear infections if they're around cigarette smoke a lot. Babies who go to bed drinking a bottle are also prone to infections, because any leftover fluid in the mouth can leak into the sinus cavity and introduce harmful bacteria to the area. Children with respiratory problems or chronic sinus infections are also likely to experience an increase in ear infections.
It's best to examine your environment as well as consult with your child's doctor to determine the cause of and eliminate known sources of the infections before considering whether surgery is appropriate for your kid.
Another sign your child may need ear tube surgery is if he or she experience hearing loss due to the infections. As noted previously, the infection causes fluid to build up in the ear, which can both physically block noises and prevent the ear from vibrating correctly to let the brain know there is sound it should be paying attention to. Though the loss may be temporary while the infection is raging, it can become permanent if the condition occurs too many times or allowed to go untreated for a long period of time.
Hearing loss can manifest in a number of ways, including a failure to react to environmental sounds normally and developmental delays (e.g. inability to speak). If you suspect your child may be struggling with hearing loss, have him or her checked by an ENT to determine the cause and whether ear tube surgery may help fix the issue.
For more information about ear tube surgery or ear infections, contact a medical professional or child surgical center.