Ear Problems and Injuries, Age 11 and Younger - Topic Overview
pain in children may be a sign of an infection in the space behind the eardrum
(middle ear ). Ear infections (otitis media) most commonly occur when
cold symptoms, such as a runny or stuffy nose and a cough, have been present
for a few days.
An ear infection may occur when the
eustachian tube swells and closes and fluid
accumulates in the middle ear. The combination of fluid and germs (from
bacteria or viruses) creates a perfect environment for an infection. Swelling
from the infection can cause pain from increased pressure on the eardrum. The
pressure can cause the
eardrum to rupture (perforate). A single eardrum
rupture is not serious and does not cause hearing loss. Repeated ruptures may
lead to hearing loss.
Middle ear infections are more common in
children than in adults. Young children have short, soft, more horizontal
eustachian tubes that are more easily blocked than those of older children and
Ear infection is the most commonly diagnosed
bacterial infection in children younger than age 7.
Almost all children will have at least one ear infection by the time they are 7
years old. Most ear infections occur in babies between the ages of 6 months to
3 years. After age 7, ear problems may be related to inflammation, infection,
or fluid buildup in the middle or external ear. Ear infections are more common
in boys than in girls, and they most often occur in children who:
- Spend time in day care settings.
- Use a pacifier.
- Live in households where
parents or caregivers smoke.
- Have had a previous ear
- Have problems present since birth (congenital
abnormalities), such as
cleft palate, or
- Have allergies.
Fluid often remains in the middle ear (serous otitis, or middle ear effusion) after an ear
infection. This may cause no symptoms, or it may cause a muffling of sound,
decreased hearing, and mild discomfort. The body usually reabsorbs fluid behind
the eardrum within 3 months, and hearing returns to normal.
Recurrent ear infections and persistent effusion may
occur in some children.