Ear infections in children often clear up on their own, and treatment may simply involve monitoring the problem and managing the pain with prescribed medication. However, some children are prone to persistent ear infections that can cause serious complications. In these cases, myringotomy tube placement may be recommended for treatment.

How do ear infections in children happen?

An ear infection occurs when there is inflammation in the middle ear. These infections are typically caused by bacteria growth from fluid buildup behind the eardrum.

Children get middle ear infections more often than adults because their Eustachian tubes, which run from the ear to the back of the nose and are responsible for draining fluid from the middle ear, haven’t fully developed yet. In young children, these tubes are often not fully opened, narrower, and more horizontal, making them susceptible to fluid buildup.

What are chronic ear infections?

Chronic ear infections refer to infections that are recurrent or won’t resolve. These infections may reappear quickly or last longer than usual. The same infection may persist and not respond to normal treatments.

Chronic ear infections in children typically happen because fluid builds up in their inner ear and their Eustachian tube doesn’t drain the fluid properly. It persists because there is an infection that is unresponsive to treatment. When fluid remains in the middle ear or keeps coming back after the infection is gone, the symptoms will recur.

child with an ear infection

How are ear infections in children treated?

A child’s immune system can often fight off an ear infection without any intervention. Doctors may recommend waiting and monitoring for 2-3 days to see if the infection goes away on its own. This gives the child’s immune system time to fight off the infection.

Middle ear infection treatment at home involves pain management, which typically involves letting the child rest, applying a warm compress to the ear, and taking over-the-counter pain relievers. Sometimes, ear drops may be recommended if the child’s eardrum is intact. Using ear drops on children under the age of 2 needs approval from your doctor.

If your child’s symptoms don’t improve in 2-3 days, seek medical attention. Treatment for an ear infection may involve taking an antibiotic, such as amoxicillin, for 7 to 10 days.

How are chronic ear infections treated?

For children who contract multiple ear infections over three months to a year, ear tube placement may be recommended.

Ear tubes, also called myringotomy tubes, are tiny tubes that are surgically placed in the child’s eardrum to help treat chronic infections. The tube’s function is to provide ventilation and prevent fluid buildup in the middle ear. The tubes also allow antibiotic ear drops to reach the middle ear, should another infection occur.

Ear tube surgery is a common outpatient procedure performed at Pediatric ENT Associates at Children’s of Alabama. During the surgery, your child will be placed under general anesthesia, and the surgeon will make a small hole in each eardrum in the middle ear and use suction to remove the fluid. No visible incisions and stitches are needed because the surgeon can reach the eardrum through the ear canal. The surgeon will complete the procedure by placing a small metal or plastic tube into the eardrum’s hole. The entire surgery typically takes about 10-15 minutes.

Ear tubes usually fall out on their own after 12-18 months, and the hole in the eardrum naturally closes. As children grow older, their immune systems grow stronger and their Eustachian tubes become longer and wider, allowing for better drainage of fluids. In some cases, longer-lasting tubes are used and will need to be surgically removed.

Chronic fluid buildup in the middle ear can lead to severe complications, including permanent hearing loss. Ear tubes ensure proper fluid drainage, helping prevent future infections and associated complications.

When is it time to see an ENT?

Reasons to see an ENT for ear infections include:

  • Your child experiences more than 4 infections per year
  • Your child has persistent fluid in the ears (more than 3 months)
  • Your child has a ruptured eardrum because of an ear infection
  • Your child cannot take antibiotics due to allergies, nausea, vomiting, or severe diarrhea, or your child can’t take oral medications well
  • Your child has ear infections requiring multiple antibiotics.
  • Your child shows signs of speech delay and hearing loss due to persistent fluid buildup.

Schedule a Pediatric Ear Infection Treatment Consultation with an ENT Specialist

If your baby or toddler suffers from persistent ear infections, don’t hesitate to reach out to the leading specialists at Pediatric ENT Associates at Children’s of Alabama in Birmingham to find the right treatment for your child.

Our board-certified pediatric otolaryngologists have many years of experience diagnosing and addressing ear conditions using effective treatments such as ear tube surgery. To make an appointment for your child, call 205.831.0101 or fill out our online contact form today.