Anyone can get ear infections, but children are particularly susceptible and, for many, they occur repeatedly. With unpleasant symptoms, persistent ear infections can be horrible for young sufferers, but why do they occur and what you can do to help your child?
The symptoms of persistent ear infections aren’t pleasant. Children may have a runny noise, fluid dripping from their ear, a fever, pain in their ear and find it difficult to hear properly. It also, not surprisingly, can make them irritable, affect their usual sleeping routines and cause a loss of balance.
It’s crucial to get an infection treated or see a doctor if your child is ill and you’re not sure what is wrong, as leaving an infection untreated could ultimately cause long-term hearing damage. In the worst cases, the infection can also spread to other parts of the head, including the brain, and cause damage.
Despite being nasty, most persistent ear infections only temporarily reduce children’s hearing and it soon returns to normal once the infection has gone. It’s essential to see a doctor and they’ll usually prescribe antibiotics.
Sometimes allergies can increase the risk of developing recurrent infections. In fact, one study found over half of all children with recurrent ear infections were allergic to food, such as cow’s milk. When the offending foods were removed from their diet, they experienced far fewer infections.
If your child is frequently affected and you can’t pinpoint exactly why (sometimes they may just be naturally susceptible), then it’s worth exploring the allergy route. It’s not advisable to randomly stop giving your child certain food groups, as a growing child needs a balanced diet to stay healthy. Instead, ask your doctor for advice or to be referred to an allergy specialist. Organisations such as Allergy UK operate help-lines and may be able to provide you with useful information.
Another common type of ear problem which can lead on to ear infections is glue ear, which is particularly frequent in children aged between two and five years old. Glue ear is so called as it involves a sticky fluid a bit like glue that builds up in the ear. The exact symptoms vary with age, but in young children you may notice them being unusually clumsy, or finding it hard to speak or understand language. In the case of older children, they may be able to let you know that they can’t hear as well as normally, or you may suddenly notice they’re not hearing what you’re saying. It can also bring on dizziness and make them clumsier than usual.
Glue ear is a very common occurrence during the colder winter months and seems to affect boys more than girls. Over 7 in 10 children are affected by at least one bout of glue ear before the age of four. It can be brought on after a cold, but allergies to pollen, dust or pets, or being exposed to smoke, can also cause it. It also seems more likely if they were bottle fed rather than breast fed and if any of their siblings have glue ear too.
In a similar way to ear infections, glue ear causes dulled hearing. For some it’s merely mild, whilst for others it can be more severe. There’s also mild earache and the gluey fluid encourages bacteria to grow, which can lead on to a full blown ear infection. If glue ear is only mild, treatment might not be necessary, but for bad cases a child may need a cause of antibiotics. For those prone to regular ear infections and glue ear, grommets may ultimately be necessary.