Childhood Ear Infections

Ask any pediatrician which type of after hours call they handle most frequently, and the answer is likely to be otitis media, the medical term for a middle ear infection. Aside from the common cold, ear infections are the most commonly diagnosed childhood illness, affecting three out of four children by the time they reach the age of three.

Ear infections occur when fluid fills the space between the eardrum and inner ear. Children are especially vulnerable because the Eustachian tube, responsible for draining fluid and equalizing pressure, is less developed in young children, and is prone to blockages and swelling when mucus and other fluids back up in the middle ear. This puts pressure on the eardrum and leads to a painful infection.

Eustachian tube in a child vs. an adult, you can see that the child has an almost horizontal Eustachian tube, while the adults is at a diagonal position, allowing for better drainage.

Eustachian tube in a child vs. an adult, you can see that the child has an almost horizontal Eustachian tube, while the adults is at a diagonal position, allowing for better drainage.

An increase in irritability is often the first sign of an ear infection. Your child may cry inconsolably and/or pull on the affected ear. Symptoms include a painful earache that worsens when lying down, fluid discharge, difficulty hearing, trouble sleeping, headache, fever, dizziness, vomiting, diarrhea, and lack of appetite. If your child displays these symptoms, you should contact your pediatrician for their recommendations for soothing, and/or monitoring/resolving the ear infection.

An ear infection is usually diagnosed after an examination of the ears using an otoscope. If they are dull, red, and contain fluid or pus, the ear is probably infected.

The most common treatment for pediatric otitis media is antibiotics, which kill off the bacteria responsible for the child’s symptoms. Chronic infections require a more serious long-term solution which may include ear tubes, which promote drainage of fluids and prevents future infections from occurring. Most are removed in a year or two, and may fall out naturally.

Many children with chronic ear infections also present with delays in language skills, speech sound production, or if unresolved later difficulties with auditory processing. If you have concerns regarding your child’s hearing, or the possibility of an ear infection, reach out to your pediatrician, or speak with your audiologist/SLP for more information.


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Jody Vaynshtok

Jody is a California-licensed speech language pathologist with eight years of industry and clinical experience. She has worked with both adult and pediatric populations during her time at private practice, birth-to-three, and hospital facilities. She is experienced in the assessment and treatment of a variety of communication and cognitive disorders. In addition, Jody has a passion for working with adults looking to achieve clearer communication. Jody received her BS in Speech and Hearing Sciences and MS in Medical Speech-Language Pathology from the University of Washington. She was a part of the Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital at Stanford’s cleft and craniofacial clinic participating in the multidisciplinary assessment and treatment of children born with craniofacial abnormalities. She holds a staff position at UCSF and is the lead speech language pathologist for the department of Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery’s Hearing Loss Clinic. When she's not busy having fun with her clients Jody enjoys spending time with her husband, Anton, friends and family. And if she's not headed out somewhere fun for dinner, you might find her at Bar Method working out!