Your child’s health: Ear infections

Did you know that ear infections are the most common childhood illness after the common cold?  And, those earaches can be real heartaches for parents. As we find out in this “Your Child’s Health” report, when the pain is too much and too often, it’s probably time to see a specialist.

Three-year-old Spencer Stopa has gotten used to the doctor looking in his ears.  He has been having reoccurring ear infections. “It seems to be every other month and probably started with he was one.  He’ll tell us, with some crying that his ears hurt.  If he has a fever than we know that he’s fighting off some infection,” Spencer’s Mom Dawn Stopa said.

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Dr. Jay Shah, an Ear, Nose and Throat Specialist with University Hospitals Rainbow Babies and Children’s Hospital, says children often get ear infections after a cold.  And, it’s like a vicious cycle. “Fluid can sometimes take up to four to six weeks to clear,” Dr. Shah said while looking in Spencer’s ear.

Dr. Shah is looking to see if Spencer should have tubes surgically placed in his ears. “Usually if a child has had three ear infections in a six month period or four ear infections within a year — or have been on multiple antibiotics that seem to not clear the ear infections, those are children we seriously consider ear tubes in,” Dr. Shah added.

According to the American Academy of Otolaryngology, one in 15 children by the age of three get ear tubes.  “Part of the tube is outside eardrum, part of the tube is inside the middle ear — and they are called pressure equalizing tubes.  So that allows that if the child were to get fluid built up in the middle ear, the fluid will drain out on its own and not get trapped behind the ear drum,” Dr. Shah explained.

Doctors have found that chronic ear infections are heredity and run in the family.  “Spencer’s sister Addison, she’s 7.  She had tubes put in her ears when she was 2.  And, it was like a cure.  She hasn’t had an ear infection since,” Stopa said.

Dr. Shah says that is typically what happens.  “Most kids, 95 percent of kids only need one set of ear tubes,” he added.