OTITIS MEDIA (EAR INFECTION) IN CHILDREN
How do we hear?
The ear consists of three major parts:
The outer ear includes the pinna (the visible part of the ear) and the ear canal. The tympanic membrane (eardrum) separates the outer ear from the middle ear.
The middle ear is an air-filled space that contains 3 tiny bones- the malleus, incus and stapes, which transmit sound from the middle ear to the inner ear. The middle ear is connected to the back of the nose and upper throat by the Eustachian tube. This tube ventilates the ear and equalizes the air pressure in the middle ear to the outside air pressure.
The inner ear contains the hearing (cochlea) and balance (labyrinth) organs. The auditory nerve connects the cochlea to the brain.
In a healthy ear, sound waves striking the eardrum send vibrations through the 3 tiny bones in the middle ear. Movement of these bones transmits sound waves across the middle ear to the cochlea of the inner ear. In the cochlea, sound is transformed into nerve impulses that travel to the brain. In this manner, sound is perceived.
What is Otitis Media?
Otitis Media is an infection or inflammation of the middle ear. This condition occurs when the Eustachian tube becomes inflamed following a cold, sinus or throat infection, allergic reaction, or is blocked by enlarged adenoid tissue. Fluid accumulates in the middle ear and may become infected.
Bacteria are the primary causes of otitis media and are detected in 70% of cases. Viruses are not usually a direct cause of otitis media, cause inflammation in the nasal passages and impair defense systems, such as cilia, in the ear. Although this condition occurs most often in children one to three years of age, older children and adults may develop it as well.
Why is Otitis Media so common in children?
There are various reasons why children are more likely to suffer from Otitis Media than adults.
What are the risk factors for developing Otitis Media?
The greatest risk factor for Otitis Media is Eustachian Tube blockage due to an upper respiratory illness such as common cold, flu, throat or sinus infection.
Additional risk factors include:
What are the effects of Otitis Media?
Otitis Media causes severe earache, but may result in serious complications if not treated. An untreated infection can travel from the middle ear to the nearby parts of the head, including the brain. Persistent fluid in the middle ear hampers the movement of the eardrum and the three middle ear bones resulting in mild to moderate hearing loss. Although this hearing loss is usually temporary, untreated otitis media may lead to permanent hearing impairment. In a child learning to talk, it can lead to speech and language disabilities.
What are the possible complications from untreated Otitis Media?
Although very rare, complications from untreated middle ear infections can include:
How does a child with Otitis Media present?
Otitis Media is often difficult to detect in children as they may be unable to tell what is bothering them.
Common features of Otitis Media include:
On the other hand, there may be no symptoms at all. At times, middle ear fluid may be discovered incidentally during a routine check-up.
How does a childs physician diagnose Otitis Media?
Ear infections require immediate attention by a pediatrician, primary care physician or an otolaryngologist (ear, nose and throat specialist). In addition, evaluation by an audiologist and a speech-language pathologist is important if a child has repeated episodes of infection and/or chronic fluid in the middle ear.
If otitis media is suspected, the childs ears are examined with an instrument called as otoscope to check for redness or fluid behind the eardrum. Another procedure called the Pneumatic otoscopy may be performed to check for middle ear fluid. During this procedure a puff of air is blown into the ear and movement of the eardrum is observed. An eardrum with fluid behind it does not move as well as an eardrum with air behind it. An audiogram or hearing test is performed to measure the degree of hearing loss.
Tympanometry measures eardrum motion and the middle ear pressure to determine how well the Eustachian tube is functioning.
An ear swab from the ear discharge may be taken to determine the infecting germ and to decide appropriate antibiotic.
In certain situations (where infection to the brain is suspected), a CT Scan of the head may be helpful to determine if the infection has spread beyond the middle ear.
Are there any preventive measures for Otitis Media?
What is the treatment of Otitis Media?
Prompt treatment of middle ear infections with antibiotics is vital to prevent complications. Oral antibiotics can be given for five to seven days in children over two years old. A full ten-day course of antibiotics, however, should still probably be used for very young children and for those with complications.
Analgesics (pain relievers) may be given to reduce the discomfort. Antihistamines, decongestants and steroids have not been proven to work in children for the treatment of otitis media.
Once the infection clears, fluid may remain in the middle ear. This situation is termed serous otitis media or otitis media with effusion. Middle ear fluid that is not infected may disappear after several weeks; alternatively, it may persist for several months. If the fluid persists for more than three months and is associated with a loss of hearing, the insertion of a tympanostomy tube is suggested. A procedure called myringotomy is performed where a tiny incision is made in the childs eardrum and fluid in the middle ear is gently sucked out. A small metal or plastic tympanostomy tube is then placed through the eardrum to prevent the myringotomy from closing and to help clear the middle ear fluid. This procedure is done under general anaesthesia. Once the fluid is evacuated from the middle ear, the childs hearing often returns to normal. The tubes cannot be seen or felt while in place. Most types of tympanonstomy tubes usually stay in place for six to twelve months and fall out spontaneously once the incision heals.
Some children may need to have the operation repeated if the fluid re-accumulates after the tube comes out. While the tubes are in place, water should be kept out of the ears. It is recommended that a child with tubes wear special ear-plugs while swimming or bathing so that water does not enter the middle ear.
Additional treatment strategies for otitis media
If the child has enlarged or infected adenoids, the otolaryngologist may recommend an adenoidectomy at the same time that the tubes are inserted.
Last updated on 23-02-2001