Middle Ear Infections and Ear Tube Surgery
Many kids get middle ear infections (otitis media, or OM), usually between the ages of 6 months and 2 years.
Some kids are particularly susceptible because of environmental and lifestyle factors (like attendance at a group childcare, secondhand tobacco smoke exposure, and taking a bottle to bed).
Although these infections are relatively easy to treat, a child who has multiple ear infections that do not get better easily or has evidence of hearing loss or speech delay may be a candidate for ear tube surgery.
During this surgery, small tubes are placed in the eardrums to ventilate the area behind the eardrum and keep the pressure equalized to atmospheric pressure in the middle ear.
About Otitis Media
The middle ear is an air-filled cavity located behind the eardrum. When sound enters the ear, it makes the eardrum vibrate, which in turn makes tiny bones in the middle ear vibrate. This transmits sound signals to the inner ear, where nerves relay the signals to the brain.
A small passage leading from the middle ear to the back of the nose — called the eustachian tube — equalizes the air pressure between the middle ear and the outside world. (When your ears pop while yawning or swallowing, the eustachian tubes are adjusting the air pressure in the middle ears.)
Bacteria or viruses can enter the middle ear through the eustachian tube and cause an infection — this often occurs when a child has had a cold or other respiratory infection. When the middle ear becomes infected, it may fill with fluid or pus, particularly if the infection is bacterial.
Pressure from this buildup pushes on the eardrum and causes pain, and because the eardrum cannot vibrate, the child may experience a temporary decrease in hearing.
With treatment, a bacterial infection can be quickly cleared up. In most kids the fluid will resolve over time and hearing will be restored. Some research suggests that long periods of hearing loss in young children can lead to delays in speech development and learning.
Note: All information is for educational purposes only. For specific medical advice, diagnoses, and treatment, consult your doctor.
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