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How to Tell if Your Child Has A Chronic Ear Infection

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Ear infections happen when fluid and swelling build up behind the eardrum. Also called a middle ear infection or otitis media, an ear infection becomes chronic when it reoccurs over time. Chronic ear infections left untreated can cause irreversible damage to the inner ear, including hearing loss. Consult with our specialists at Cross Timbers ENT in Arlington, Midlothian, or Mansfield, TX if your child displays early signs of an ear infection.

What causes childhood ear infections?

When there is fluid build-up in the ear, the eustachian tube that runs from the middle ear to the back of the throat helps drain it out. A blockage in the eustachian tube prevents the fluid from draining properly, causing swelling and infection. Children’s eustachian tubes are smaller and narrower, making them prone to more ear infections than adults.

Fluid blockage and build-up in the middle ear can have several causes, including a virus or bacterial infection. Oftentimes, ear infections are brought on by an allergy, cold, or the flu. If an acute ear infection does not completely go away or comes back several times, it can develop into a chronic ear infection.

What symptoms will a child display if they have an ear infection?

Children may be unable to verbally describe their symptoms as well as adults. Physical signs to look for include:

  • Increased fussiness in infants

  • Low-grade fever

  • Dizziness

  • Nausea

  • Ear discomfort and pain

  • Inner ear pressure

  • Pus-like drainage from the ear

  • Hearing loss

Signs of acute or chronic ear infections will come and go. Pain and discomfort will vary in intensity over time. Consult with one of our specialists right away if your child displays any of these symptoms, no matter the frequency.

How do doctors screen for an ear infection?

Our team of audiology experts will perform an inner ear exam using an otoscope. Early screening could identify inner ear abnormalities, such as redness, air bubbles, thick fluid build-up or drainage, and perforations (eardrum holes). Our specialists at Cross Timbers ENT located in Arlington, Midlothian, or Mansfield, TX may perform additional tests, including fluid cultures to identify potential bacterial infections, CT scans to assess infection beyond the middle ear, and hearing exams.

How are ear infections in children treated?

Our experts prescribe antibiotics for bacterial-caused ear infections, which are to be taken for several weeks (sometimes for several months). Antibiotic medication can be administered by mouth, intravenously, or via ear drops. In rare cases of chronic ear infection or if antibiotics are not working, our specialists may recommend surgery (tube placements), eardrum repair, or debridement to remove infected tissue.

What possible complications can a child have from a chronic ear infection left untreated?

If left untreated, chronic ear infections can progress into any of the following conditions:

  • Infection of the mastoid and inner ear bones responsible for hearing

  • Hardening/scarring of the eardrum tissue

  • Inner ear cysts

  • Chronic drainage through an non-healing eardrum hole

  • Damage to the vestibular system (balance)

  • Inflammation around the brain (epidural abscess)

  • Facial paralysis

Prevent chronic ear infections in children

Our experienced team of audiologists at Cross Timbers ENT in Arlington, Midlothian, and Mansfield, TX can assist families in preventing chronic ear infections in children. Familiarize yourself with the early signs and symptoms of childhood middle ear infections. Observe your child and get to know their individual ways of displaying discomfort or possible illness. Consult with our specialists right away for acute incidences to minimize risk for chronic ear infections and further complications.

* All information subject to change. Images may contain models. Individual results are not guaranteed and may vary.