Why Does My Child Keep Getting Ear Infections?

Published in Wellness Tag: David Ross, MD,MBA  

Why does my child keep getting ear infections? I’m a parent too, so I feel your (and your children’s) pain!

Here’s a simple analogy.  Let’s pretend the eardrum is the bottom of an open, empty bottle. The space in the bottle is filled with nothing but air. If infection begins to accumulate in the open bottle, it will simply drain out.

If infection causes the neck of the bottle to swell shut, now we have a problem. The bacteria will reproduce until they completely fill the air-space.  Eventually the bottom of the bottle (the ear drum), will begin to bulge from the pressure, become inflamed, and cause pain. This results in a child who cries all night while pulling at his or her ear.

Children tend to get ear infections more frequently simply due to the size of their bottle. The bottle neck is narrower, so it swells shut easier. Likewise, the bottle itself is smaller, requiring less bacteria to fill the empty space.

Usually this type of infection is treated with antibiotics, and the treatment is effective. If the swelling in the child’s bottle neck will not subside, it is possible for the infection to continue or to frequently return. In these cases, a tube (think straw) is inserted through the bottom of the bottle (the ear drum). The straw actually takes over the role of the bottle neck…which is to drain the bottle.  Often times the straw will stay in place for many months to over a year. The hope is that by the time the straw falls out, that the child’s bottle neck has increased in size, and is not so easily swollen shut.

I know the analogy above will not prevent your child’s infection…but isn’t it at least nice to know what’s going on?