Common Misconceptions about Childhood Ear Infections

Skyler Kalady, M.D., explains some of the common misconceptions behind childhood ear infections.

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CLEVELAND – Most parents have been woken up in the middle of the night at some point in time by a child suffering from an ear infection.

Skyler Kalady, M.D., of Cleveland Clinic Children’s said ear infections can be understandably upsetting for families, but one common misconception is that a child ‘tugging’ at their ear is a clear sign of an infection.

“Kids will pull at their ear for a lot of different reasons and many times it’s actually not a bacterial ear infection,” said Dr. Kalady. “At times ear tugging could be caused by middle ear fluid, but not an infection, referred pain from teething or a sore throat, or a new behavior the child is exploring.”

Dr. Kalady said ear infections are quite common in children ages six months to school age. She said that because their anatomy is smaller, the normal drainage mechanisms don’t always work as well as in older children and adults.

“Middle ear infections are pretty common; typically they’re preceded by a viral upper respiratory infection, said Dr. Kalady. “Typically, you might notice your child has a cold or a cough for several days, doing pretty well, but if on the fourth or fifth day, the child worsens with new fever, fussiness and irritability at night, in which case you should have your child evaluated as the likelihood of a bacterial ear infection is higher.”

Dr. Kalady said ear infections are not contagious, but the viral colds that proceed them are.

For children who have persistent problems with ear infections, ear tube surgery can be an option.

Ear tube surgery involves the placement of tiny tubes into the eardrum to equalize pressure and allow fluid to drain from the middle ear.

However, Dr. Kalady said even if a child gets two to three ear infections a year, it’s probably not enough to need tubes.

“There certainly are kids for whom ear tubes are very appropriate, but typically its only when they’ve had five to six ear infections over the course of a 12 month period; those are the children that would benefit most from this procedure,” said Dr. Kalady.

Dr. Kalady said children with persistent fluid in their ears, to the point where it obstructs their hearing, may also be good candidates for ear tube surgery.

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