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Middle Ear Infections

Middle Ear Infections: Frequently Asked Questions

Thursday, April 19, 2012 - 15:03

Contributing Author: Guy Slowik FRCS

Here are some frequently asked questions related to middle ear infection.

Q: Why is my child prone to middle ear infections?

A: The middle ear is filled with air that travels through the eustachian tube to the back of the nose. The eustachian tube equalizes middle ear pressure and helps drain fluids in the ear. In babies and toddlers, the eustachian tube is shorter, narrower, and less rigid than in an adult, so that when the child has a cold, germs can more easily pass from the back of the nose and throat into the middle ear. When this happens, the eustachian tube swells and closes, trapping infected fluid in the middle ear, which creates a breeding ground for germs.

Q: Will antibiotics clear up my child's ear infection?

A: Approximately 30 to 50 percent of ear infections are caused byviruses. In this case, antibiotics are useless, and the infection must clear on its own. Infections caused by bacteria, on the other hand, respond well to antibiotics.

Q: What will happen if my child has many ear infections?

A: In the vast majority of cases, ear infections cause no permanent harm. In some children, fluid remains in the ear for months, which can impair hearing and speech development. Other serious complications may require surgery.

Q: Are there risks involved in having tubes inserted?

A: Sometimes, placement of ear tubes is the most effective treatment for ear infections and chronic otitis media with effusion. This must be done in the operating room under general anesthesia, which always involves some risk, but the risk in this case is minimal. However, ear tubes are a last resort, used only after your child has suffered several painful ear infections and fluid in the ears.

Q: Is it dangerous if my child's eardrum ruptures because of an ear infection?

A: A ruptured eardrum almost always will heal in its own. In rare cases, if it does not, surgery may be performed to close up the hole in the eardrum. A ruptured eardrum can be painful - but for many children, it actually relieves the pain caused by a middle ear infection. That's because the fluid that built up behind the eardrum, which caused the pain, is released through the hole.

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