Ear infections are quite common among children, particularly during the toddler years up to 3 years old. An occasional ear infection is not an issue to worry about but a recurring one requires medical attention to properly assess the cause and provide proper treatment. The symptoms of an ear infection typically include pain, difficulty sleeping, diminished hearing, irritability and oftentimes a low fever. An ear infection is usually the result of fluid that is trapped in the ear, but there are several reasons for the accumulation of fluid.
An ear infection is often triggered by infections such as sinusitis or common cold. The lining in the middle ear becomes engorged from the bacterial or viral infection which allows fluids to accumulate behind the ear drum and clog up the Eustachian tube. This tube is responsible for keeping the pressure from building up by allowing air to move in and out of the middle ear. It is also responsible for transporting mucus from the middle ear into the throat. The bacteria or virus that causes the illness can travel up to the Eustachian tube from the nasal passages or the mouth and infect the inner ear once it is trapped by the swollen Eustachian tube.
The adenoids are positioned in the upper throat close to the Eustachian tubes. It is important to note that the adenoid cells fight off the infection but can become infected as well. Once the adenoids are infected, they can become inflamed or enlarged, thus clogging up the Eustachian tube. The similar infection that affects the adenoids can travel all the way up to the Eustachian tube as well. The moment the tubes could not function properly, fluid accumulates behind the eardrum and triggers an ear infection.
Size of the Eustachian tube
It is important to note that toddlers often have a shorter and narrow Eustachian tube that grows with age. A narrow and short tube increases the risk for ear infection since it could not properly keep the germs out as well as allowing fluids that should be swallowed to make their way up to the inner ear.
The germs typically travel in and out of the interior ear through the Eustachian tube, but if they could not escape due to the size of the tube, it results to the build-up of infectious agents. Shortly after birth, the Eustachian tube of an infant is tilted in a way that enables fluids that are swallowed to easily go up toward the ear. Toddlers who drink from a bottle especially while laying down face a higher risk of having the swallowed fluids make their way up to the Eustachian tube as well. As the child grows, the tube eventually straightens out.