Why do kids get so many ear infections?

Published on: 2/12/2010

I remember having ear infections as kid. Sometimes they were so bad that it even hurt to lay my head on a pillow. Sound familiar?

Ear infections are a common health problem for kids. About 60 to 80 percent of kids have at least one ear infection before their first birthday, and 75 percent of kids will have had at least one ear infection by age 3.

So why do kids get so many ear infections? Mainly because they have shorter and more horizontal Eustachian tubes, which connect the inside of the ear to the back of the nose. The tubes allow fluid to drain, preventing buildup in the middle ear. An ear infection happens when Eustachian tubes can’t do their job. For instance, when your child has a cold and swelling in the nose blocks drainage. Shorter and more horizontal Eustachian tubes also make it easier for bacteria to get into the ear and cause an ear infection.

The good news is by age 4, kids’ Eustachian tubes become longer and more vertical. They typically begin to outgrow ear infections around this age.

Keep in mind, kids also may be at a higher risk for ear infections if they:
• Are around people who smoke.
• Have a family history of ear infections.
• Attend day care, since they are exposed to more germs and viruses.
Infants who are breast-fed may be at less risk for ear infections. This may be related to the protective effects of breast milk on the immune system and the position of a baby’s head during breast-feeding.

Ear infections generally will get better on their own in a few days or with antibiotics. If your child has frequent ear infections (three in six months or four in one year), or has fluid in his or her middle ear that won’t go away, consider making an appointment with a specialist. An otolaryngologist (ear, nose and throat specialist) may talk to you about putting in ear tubes, which stay in place for six to 18 months to help drain fluid.

Otolaryngology services are available at Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin Clinics-New Berlin. To make an appointment, call Central Scheduling at (414) 607-5280.

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