Persistent earaches are a common childhood illness that generally improves with age. But why? We’re here to tell you all about childhood ear, nose and throat development, and what exactly is causing your child’s pain.
First, let’s start with understanding the mechanics of a healthy ear. The Eustachian tube is a narrow passage that connects the inside of the ear to the back of the throat. In a healthy ear, this tube permits drainage to flow down, where it is eventually swallowed. This prevents fluid from building up in the middle ear, and bursting the thin barrier of the ear drum.
A healthy Eustachian tube keeps the middle ear pressure at equilibrium with the outside air. Usually, the tube is collapsed to protect the middle ear from the bounty of germs that reside in the nose and mouth. Problems occur when the Eustachian tube can’t accomplish this. If the tube becomes blocked, fluid builds up in the middle ear. This traps the bacteria in the middle ear, where they are then free to multiply. To compound this problem, air from the middle ear is siphoned into the bloodstream, and a partial vacuum forms that absorbs even more bacteria from the nose and mouth into the ear.
So why do children suffer more from earaches and ear infections than do adults? A child’s Eustachian tube is generally much shorter, more horizontal, and straighter than an adult’s. It is also floppier, and the opening is small enough that it is easily clogged. All of these factors mean drainage is more likely to be blocked, and bacteria can travel more easily.
Most ear infections clear up on their own, and do not develop into more complex cases that could result in surgery. Many doctors prescribe antibiotics for these reoccurring ear infections, but they are not always necessary or even the best option. Visit your doctor and see what treatment options he or she recommends.