It may start with a loss of appetite or a change in behavior. From there maybe a fever or tugging on the ear. The signs are all there – an ear infection.
Most children will develop an ear infection at least once, and some will face chronic ear infections during their childhood. In many cases, this common infection can be quickly taken care of with a round of antibiotics, but it’s not always that easy.
One of the biggest fears, especially when ear infections are chronic or severe, is whether or not the infection will cause hearing loss.
Here’s what you need to know.
What is an ear infection?
Ear infections are also known as acute otitis media. They are a bacterial or viral infection of the middle ear, and often a result of congestion caused by colds and allergies. An ear infection causes inflammation and a buildup of fluid in the ear, which can result in ear pain, fluid drainage and, yes, even some hearing loss. They are generally treated with antibiotics, but in some extreme cases may require surgery.
While anyone of any age can develop an ear infection, they are most common in young children. This added risk is attributed to both a less developed immune system to fight off the bacteria that cause infection and the fact that the structures of the ear, specifically the Eustachian tubes, are still developing, making them more susceptible to fluid build-up.
Ear infections and hearing loss
It’s not unusual for ear infections to cause some temporary hearing loss. After all, it’s not so easy for sound to travel through all that extra fluid and inflammation to reach the inner ear. Generally, this is a muffling of sound accompanied by fullness and pain, all of which goes away as the infection is treated and resolved.
Whether or not you believe it to be temporary, it should be checked by a doctor or hearing healthcare professional to monitor and treat.
Unfortunately, when ear infections go untreated, do not respond to treatment or become chronic, permanent hearing loss could, in rare cases, be a result. In these cases, the severe inflammation and buildup of fluid in the ear can cause permanent damage to the structures of the ear that help us to hear.
Preventing ear infections
While every parent would like to avoid ear infections and the accompanying trips to the pediatrician and pharmacy, it is difficult to prevent them. With that said, there are some steps you can take to help minimize risk, including having your child:
- Use cold and flu-busting hygiene like regularly washing hands
- Stay up-to-date on vaccinations such as the flu vaccine
- Avoid secondhand smoke which has been linked to ear infections
Hearing loss in children can be a serious concern. If you believe your child has an ear infection, seek medical attention for treatment. If you’ve noticed signs of hearing loss in your child, contact our office to schedule a hearing evaluation to diagnose and treat as early as possible.