Ear infections, or otitis media, are a painful part of childhood. Understanding the biology behind the development of ear infections can help parents see the warning signs and take preventative measures. Thus, in this pedcast, Doc Smo walks you through the stages of ear infections and provides listeners with ways to help prevent them.
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By some estimates, 40% of visits to pediatricians are for ear infections.
Most children have otitis before the age of 2 years.
I Thought today, we would talk about why children get them, should they be treated, and can they be prevented?
Parents have these questions all the time.
So lets get started with our discussion with a trip down, you know where, science lane.
There are loads of germs in our nose that can cause ear and sinus infections…all the time! That’s right, sinus and ear infections are usually an overgrowth of germs we already carry.
So why don’t we have ear infections all the time?
To understand the answer to that question, need to know how our noses work. That’s right, our noses.
Remember the structures that are attached to our noses, our sinuses in every direction around our nose, our ears through the Eustachian tubes, our eyes up through the lacrimal ducts, and our throat pulling up the rear.
Normally every time we take a breath through our nose, we put fresh air into our sinuses and ears. If our noses are working properly, each breath opens the windows and lets in fresh air into our sinuses and ears and at the same time equalizing the pressure with the ambient pressure around us.
In addition, the cells that line our nose, sinuses and ears secrete a steady trickle of mucous that is kept moving by our cilia, little brooms that constantly sweep the mucous into our throats. A gentle river of mucous flows through our noses, sinuses, ears and bronchioles all the time cleaning and moving away dirt and germs away from our healthy respiratory system.
The combination of moving mucous and fresh air keeps germs from ganging up on us.
Now think of a child, especially a baby. A cold means a swollen nasal passage without air moving and loads of extra mucous. Babies don’t blow their noses, remember! This is the recipe for a sinus and ear infection.
Stagnant mucous in airless places.
Here is the sequence of events:
Virus attaches itself to the nasal membrane causing swelling lining cells. The medical jargon for this is apoptosis or swelling of cells. We can feel that at the beginning of a cold.
The children’s tiny sinus and ear Ostia become obstructed from airflow causing a VACUUM to form in the ears and sinuses.
Your body doesn’t like a vacuum and fills up these spaces with mucous (when your child’s doctor says, fluid in ear…this stage).
Remember that bacteria in the nose, now it has warm, sugary pockets of stagnant fluid to grow in and BAM, a hot ear infection.
Since bacteria grow so fast, it can be only a matter of hours between fluid in the ear and a raging infection.
The body’s natural defenses, moving mucous and fresh air are not there to keep the germs from taking over.
Children who carry the allergy gene have all the same events occur but the swelling inside their noses is from both dust and pollen allergy and viral infections. These children are especially prone to ear infections.
So what’s the perfect storm for ear infections?
Under 2 years of age….Promotes…Small nose and no blowing.
Remember this Doc Smo pearl, “Rivers that don’t flow are nasty!”
Being in an environment where infection with respiratory viruses is frequent….. Being around a lot of other young children.
Remember this Doc Smo pearl…. “Infectious diseases are contagious!”
Being a child with eczema, food allergy, or recurrent wheezing… having the allergy gene which means lots of swelling in the nose and loaded with mucous.
If your child is prone to ear and sinus infections…practical tips that might help.
1. Avoid crowds of children to play with especially when they are very young and put things in their mouths. Touch is the method of spread.
2. Be especially careful with group care if your child exhibits signs of allergy.
3. Play with other children outside whenever possible, even when it is cold. Unlikely to transfer germs outside.
4.Unless your child has clear allergy, Avoid cold medicines with antihistamines, which can make nasal mucous thicker… poor flow means more infections.
5. If your young child has loads of otitis media, try a milk free diet for 2-4 weeks to see if it helps.
6. Hose those little noses with saline a lot… water is a natural cleaner. Use it!
7. Try and avoid treating ear infections in children older than 2, after your child can talk. More on this subject listen to “Bugs and Drugs”
That wraps up todays “Pedcast” Thank you for listening. I hope your understanding of ear infections is better now.
If you enjoyed this talk, try some other DocSmo episodes which you can find at my website, DocSmo.com, at my face book page or on ITunes.
Comments are welcome.
This is Dr. Paul Smolen.
Recording in full digital sound from studio 1E in Charlotte, NC.
Wishing your children noses full of warm breezes and years without sneezes
Until next time
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