Expert corner: Frequent ear infections in children

Expert corner: Frequent ear infections in children

Expert Corner Hearing and Speech Hearing Loss Speech and Hearing Disorders

Frequent ear infections in children: Signs for parents with concerns about speech and language development.

Ear tube surgery – it is one of the most common childhood surgeries.

According to the New York Times, nearly seven-hundred thousand children a year in the United States have tiny plastic tubes inserted into their eardrums.

“No one wants to see a child in pain,” said renowned pediatrician and parenting expert Dr. Jen Trachtenberg. “The main reason to get the tubes is that it helps with hearing loss. When you have the tubes, all that fluid and pus comes out of the ear, therefore, you don’t have the pressure and the temporary hearing loss.”

Although ear tube surgery may be among the most common surgeries for children, Trachtenberg says the number of such procedures being performed is excessive (“doctors are doing too many,” she says) and that parents should think twice before they “jump the gun” and opt for ear tubes.

Dr. Jen Trachtenberg, expert pediatrician in NYC

Dr. Jen Trachtenberg, expert pediatrician in NYC

“I never take it lightly,” says Trachtenberg. “I would never jump to just doing tubes surgery on a child. That said, not all infections need to be treated with antibiotics.”

Doctors say that ear infections are one of the most common childhood ailments, with eighty percent of kids experiencing at least one instance of infection by they time they turn three years of age. Ear infections also account for more than 30 million doctor visits a year, so the potential for excessive use of the ear tube procedure would seem to be possible.

What, then, should a conscientious parent do if he or she is considering ear tube surgery for his or her child?

First, remember that, if left untreated, otitis media (the common ear infection) can lead to loss of hearing in your child and delays in terms of speech development. Dr. Trachtenberg says it’s more important to focus on the length of a child’s ear infection, in terms of how long the fluid remains in the ear rather than  just the number of ear infections that may occur. “This is why continuity of care and having a primary pediatrician is so helpful,” she says.

According to the American Academy of Otolaryngology (A.A.O.), parents should not opt for ear tube surgery in otherwise healthy children who have had just one episode of ear fluid lasting less than three months. On its website, the A.A.O. says that infections of “short duration” will probably go away on their own.

However, if there is evidence of speech delay, then opting for ear tube surgery could be the right decision for your child. As for how much hearing loss is required before parents should consider themselves to have reached this point, some physicians say that early ear tube surgery can be considered in kids who register a hearing loss of forty or more decibels.

As for signs of what parents should look for, Trachtenberg says that persistent fluid and persistent hearing loss would mean that parents or caregivers should ask their pediatricians about referring them to an ear, nose and throat (ENT) doctor, who specializes in the ear tube procedure.

If it does come to getting the surgery, doctors say parents should be aware that the procedure involves general anesthetic, but is also generally an easy one to carry out.

“About fifteen minutes,” says Tranchtenberg, when asked how long the surgery lasts. “Kids in general tolerate it very well. Not much pain. Your child may get antibiotic drops for the ear. Generally they do really well.”

photo credit: Doctor Aunt via photopin (license)

 

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Do Ear Infections Affect Speech Development?

Do Ear Infections Affect Speech Development?

Hearing and Speech Hearing Loss Language Development Speech and Hearing Disorders

Ear infections and speech development: good news for youngest kids, but parents still have plenty to fret about.

Although a new study published in Pediatrics shows a sharp decline in the rate of childhood ear infections among kids in the first year of life, there are still plenty of children (and parents) who have to struggle through an ailment that remains stubbornly common — and, if left untreated, ear infections affect speech, lead to hearing loss or an overall delay a child’s speech and language development.

Stine Jewett, a mother of two who lives with her husband near San Francisco, knows all about the trials that come with recurrent ear infections. Last year, her son, Thomas, developed an alarming streak of ear infections at the rate of one almost every other month. According to the meticulous records she kept of Thomas’s condition, Jewett says that her son suffered from five incidents of acute otitis media — the common ear infection — in less than one calendar year.

“It would always happen on the weekend,” Jewett recalled. “There would be no symptoms leading up to it and then, always early Saturday night, going to get the ear drops.”

At the beginning of this period, Jewett says that she and her husband had no idea what they were in for. Their other child, an elder daughter named Anna, had never come down with an ear infection in her entire life. Also, Thomas’s age made him a bit old to be so vulnerable to ear infections, not to say a long and — for his parents — bewildering series of them.

Stine Jewett and her son Thomas

Stine Jewett and her son Thomas

“Whenever I saw a runny nose, I would worry,” Jewett said. “What was most puzzling was that he didn’t start getting them until he was three. Most kids start getting them around one. He never had any until he was three, and so it was not a typical case. The doctors really didn’t have anything to say.”

And, after a while, Jewett ran out of patience with the antibiotic remedies that Thomas’s physicians were prescribing. After some initial reluctance, she opted for a procedure that involved putting her son under total anesthetic and inserting tubes in his ear canals, so that the middle part of that organ can drain the fluids that cause infections in the first place.

“I was hesitant,” she recalled. “I actually wanted to avoid [the tubes] for some reason. In surgery, they put him completely under so that he will lie still. But that’s only for children. An adult getting this would not be under. So that was scary. But what basically pushed me over was, ok, he’s on antibiotics again. Is he going to get resistant to antibiotics? What if he gets really, really sick. A friend who was an ENT was like, just do it. Now I wish we had done it sooner. Looking back, I feel bad that I thought he was just being difficult or grumpy.”

Ear Infections Affect Speech and Language Development

In the days just before his surgery, Thomas was tested by an audiologist who found enough congestion to account for low hearing loss in the boy’s left ear and moderate to severe hearing loss in his right. The severity of hearing loss can fluctuate, however, due to the varying levels of fluid build up, which can make it even more difficult for parents who are trying to figure out their child’s inflamed level of irritability or grouchiness. A person speaking in a clear, normal voice will sound like a whisper to a young child with enough congestion to block the normal passage of sound waves.

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