Knowing when to worry is another key aspect of ear infection management. By far, the most common complication associated with ear infections is temporary hearing loss. We know that most, if not all, children suffer from mild hearing disturbance during an ear infection, but the question that many parents want answered is whether one or two or 10 ear infections will permanently affect their child's hearing.
Fluid persists in the middle ear space even after the germs are cleared away, and it is this fluid that decreases the ability of the middle ear bones to conduct sound. The fluid usually drains within three weeks after an ear infection. Sometimes it can take up to three months for the fluid to go away. Occasionally it can take even longer, which is why your child should have her ears examined again around this three-month mark. If fluid is found, a hearing test may be performed.
Going to an ENT
Your child's pediatrician might refer you to an ear, nose, and throat specialist in the following instances: when the hearing test demonstrates a significant hearing loss, or when a child has suffered three infections within 6 months, or four or more infections over the course of 12 months. At the appointment, the specialist will probably discuss the possible need for ventilation tubes, which are surgically placed in eardrums to prevent fluid from building in the middle ear space.
All these possibilities may seem overwhelming, but there is reassuring news: Comparison studies reveal no major differences in ultimate language development between children who suffered from recurrent ear infections as infants and those who didn't. Ear infections will continue to be a common problem -- or yet another requirement before entering kindergarten! But arming yourself with knowledge about this almost inevitable condition is as important as any treatment pediatricians can toss at you.
Sara DuMond, MD, is a pediatrician in Mooresville, North Carolina, and the mother of two young children.
Originally published in American Baby magazine, December 2005.
All content here, including advice from doctors and other health professionals, should be considered as opinion only. Always seek the direct advice of your own doctor in connection with any questions or issues you may have regarding your own health or the health of others.