Cecil Michael, MD, is a pediatrician and chief of the medical staff at Banner Thunderbird Medical Center. His office can be reached at (602) 978-2500.
Question: My 13-month-old has already been diagnosed with three ear infections. Is it possible that water from her baths or something else I’m doing is causing the infections?
Answer: Otitis media, commonly referred to as an ear infection, is an infection in the middle ear sinus cavity that most commonly occurs during or following a viral cold. Infection results when mucus and other fluids build up behind the ear drum. When fluid is unable to drain properly through a duct known as the Eustachian tube, bacteria accumulate causing infection.
Ear infections are most common in children between six months and two years because their underdeveloped immune systems make them more prone to colds and respiratory infections. Additionally, the structure of their ears can sometimes hinder fluid drainage, thus making them more susceptible to infection. One misconception about ear infections is that they are caused by cool drafts or water in the ear. While water in the ear canal or outer ear can lead to swimmer’s ear, clinically known as otitis externa, it does not cause middle ear infection.
As we all know, it’s difficult to prevent young children from catching colds. When an ear infection sets in, children usually become fussy and tend to stick their fingers in their ears in an attempt to relieve pressure and pain.
An ear infection can go away on its own without medication. Whether a doctor prescribes antibiotics depends on such factors as age, degree of symptoms and appearance of the ear drum. In general, very irritable patients with full or bulging ear drums are prescribed medication to speed up the recovery process, especially true for infants.
Children who have recurrent ear infections with fluid that remains in the ear for two to three months might require more intense treatment such as the use of pressure equalization tubes. These small pipes, which are inserted through an incision in the ear drum, allow fluid to drain and air to reenter the middle ear space. Tube placement is one of the most common operations currently performed.
Aside from the daily effort to keep your child from getting sick, there’s little you can do to prevent an ear infection. If you’re concerned about chronic ear infections, talk to your pediatrician about treatment options that may help avoid frequent use of antibiotics.