Infections of the middle ear (otitis media) are one of the most common childhood illnesses. In young children, the eustachian tube (a tube that connects the middle ear to the throat) is smaller and more horizontal than in adults. Sometimes, because of colds or allergies, the eustachian tube gets swollen or clogged and bacteria from the throat and nose get trapped in the middle ear space, causing an infection. Children with allergies also make more mucus, which can act as breeding ground for ear infections. Viruses can also cause ear infections.
Studies have shown that in children ages 3 to 6 with chronic otitis media, 20 to 40 percent or more have allergic rhinitis. In children 6 years or older with chronic otitis media, more than 50 percent have allergic rhinitis.
Frequently, ear infections are treated with antibiotics. Often the ear infection will resolve on its own. Your practitioner may recommend a "wait and see" approach to see if the infection resolves without the need for antibiotics. Pain relieving medications are also used such as acetaminophen or ibuprofen.
If your child has allergies, nasal steroids, antihistamines or decongestants may also be used to help with the associated symptoms. Avoidance of allergens such as animal dander or dust mites might also be helpful. Antihistamines and decongestants, nasal steroids and allergen avoidance alone, however, do not prevent or cure ear infections.
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that all children under 2 receive the S. pneumoniae (PREVNAR) vaccine. Although the intent of the vaccine is to prevent potentially deadly causes of pneumonia, and bacterial meningitis, there may also be a decrease in the number of ear infections.
Reviewed by: Allergy Section
Date: February 2004