It's invariably the day before you're leaving for vacation or 4:30 P.M. on a Friday when panic starts to set in: You suspect your child has an ear infection, and there's a good chance you're right. Besides the fact that Murphy's Law and motherhood often go hand in hand, studies show that more than 80 percent of kids will be diagnosed with at least one middle-ear infection (acute otitis media) before their third birthday.
Although the incidence of ear infections has decreased in the last decade, thanks in part to the pneumococcal vaccine, they still send about 16 million kids to the pediatrician each year. Kids under age 2 are particularly vulnerable because their immune system is still developing and their eustachian tubes -- the passageway in each ear that drains normal fluid from the middle ear to the back of the throat -- are more narrow and horizontal."When a child gets a cold, the tiny tubes can swell and prevent fluid from draining," says Amanda Dempsey, M.D., Ph.D., assistant professor of pediatrics and communicable diseases at the University of Michigan Health System, in Ann Arbor. "The fluid can get trapped behind the eardrum and create an ideal moist environment for viruses or bacteria in a child's throat and ears to multiply and cause an infection."
And once pesky germs settle in and the fluid backup puts painful pressure on the eardrum, your child can be pretty miserable. While the scenario is not always avoidable, knowing these five key facts about ear infections will prepare you to battle the illness -- and help keep your child healthy in the future.