Does your child complain of ear pain?

Nowadays, ear infections are common in children. In fact, research suggests that most children get at least one ear infection by the age of 3. Although there are many causes of ear pain, most often it results from an infection in the ear.  The severity of ear infection varies widely from one person to another. The ear consists three major parts – the outer ear, the middle ear, and the inner ear.

  • The outer ear is also known as pinna, and it basically includes what we see outside. It includes the ear canal which begins at the opening of the ear and extends to the eardrum. Eardrum separates the outer ear from the middle ear.
  • The middle ear is located between the eardrum and the inner ear. It is in the middle ear where infection occurs. It involves three tiny bones, namely malleus, incus, and stapes, which transmit the sound.
  • The inner ear contains cochlea that converts sounds and vibrations from the middle ear to the electrical signals. The auditory nerve carries these signals from the cochlea to the brain.

What are the symptoms of an ear infection?

When your child suffers from an ear infection, he or she is more likely to experience symptoms like:

  • Pain is the most common symptom which is accompanied by persistent irritation and crying.
  • Problems with sleep are also common and this is primarily due to the pain.
  • Ear drainage might also be present which is characterized by drainage of white or yellow fluid from a child’s ear.
  • Fever
  • Loss of appetite

What are the causes of an ear infection?

Usually, infection begins when a child suffers from a sore throat, cold, and other upper respiratory disorders. When an infection is bacteria, the bacteria spreads to the middle ear and causes an infection. And when an infection is caused by a virus, that is due to cold, the eustachian tube becomes blocked and stops the drainage of the fluid. This leads to the development of an infection due to the germs that are present in the nose and throat.  

What are the common types of an ear infection?

Primarily there are three types of ear infections namely, acute otitis media, otitis media with effusion, and chronic otitis media with effusion.

1. Acute otitis media is the most common type of ear infection and it occurs when the parts of the middle ear are swollen and infected. This causes the buildup of fluid in the eardrum which results in pain. Acute otitis media is known to be a sign of three components – ear infection, inflammation of the middle ear, and effusion. It is usually preceded by upper respiratory infection and apart from pain, it is accompanied by increased crying and poor sleep.

2. Otitis media with effusion is an ear infection which occurs when an ear infection has run its course but sometimes fluid stays behind the eardrum. It is a common problem seen in children. In fact, it is the commonest cause of hearing disability in children. Generally, children with otitis media with effusion do not develop any symptom of acute inflammation. The ear is not painful, but a child can experience discomfort in ear or hearing loss.

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3. Chronic otitis media with effusion is a condition which occurs when the fluid in the ear stays for a long time and comes over and over again. It is not accompanied by an infection, but it makes it difficult for a child to fight infections. Many time, chronic otitis media leads to the occurrence of the hearing problem.

Why children are more likely to suffer from ear infection?

As stated above, most children suffer from some form of ear infection by the age of 3 and there are many reasons that can explain the reason behind it. Some of the reasons include:

  • The Eustachian tube is a part of the ear that connects the upper part of the throat to the middle ear. It performs many functions such as supplying air to the middle ear, keeping the pressure of air steady, and draining fluid.

In children, the eustachian tube is smaller as compared to adults, which makes it difficult for the fluid to drain out of the ear. When the eustachian tube is swollen due to cold it is difficult for the fluid to drain.

  • The immune system in the human body is known as a defense system because it protects the body from viruses, bacterias, and other foreign substances. A strong immune system is important to prevent the development of infection, whereas, the weakened immune system makes the body prone to suffer from infections.

The immune system of a child is weak and not as effective as of adults because it is not fully developed, it is still developing. Therefore, children are unable to fight off infections and are prone to get infected.

Are there any complications associated with an ear infection?

Although it is rare, there are some complications that might develop due to the untreated ear infection. Complication includes permanent hearing loss, scarring of the eardrum, facial paralysis, and an infection in the inner ear. Ear infection can significantly affect the quality of life of a child and their caregivers.

There are some ways that can help you reduce the risk of developing ear infection in your child and it includes

  • Prefer breastfeeding instead of a bottle feed as breastfeeding would reduce the risk of frequent colds and other infections.
  • Ensuring that your child’s environment is safe and free from harmful substances such as exposure to smoke is one of the common risk factors for a child to suffer from an infection.
  • Get your child vaccinated. Vaccines play an important role in preventing the development of various infections. This can reduce the risk of getting an ear infection as well.


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Janet Fudge

Janet Fudge writes on general health topics for She holds a post-graduate diploma in Public Health with a major in epidemiology. During the outbreak of COVID-19, Janet actively volunteered in vaccination drives throughout the state of Iowa. She lives in Iowa with her husband and two children.