Monroe Carell Jr. Children's Hospital at Vanderbilt
Monroe Carell Jr. Children's Hospital at Vanderbilt
Monroe Carell Jr. Children's Hospital at Vanderbilt
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Monroe Carell Jr.
Children's Hospital
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Nashville, TN 37232

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Ear Infections


Why do kids get so many ear infections?

The body’s natural ear pressure equalization tube, the Eustachian tube, is a muscular structure that connects the middle ear (the part of the ear that is affected during a typical ear infection) to the upper portion of the throat. In babies, this tube is narrower and angled in a way that makes it difficult for fluid to drain from the middle ear. A slip of this Eustachian tube muscle attaches to the soft palate. As babies start looking more like toddlers and then older kids, the palate growing and pulls the Eustachian tube into a more normal position. At this point children tend to stop having so many ear infections.

What are risk factors for ear infections in children?

Group child care, parental smoking (even if the smoking is not done in the same room as the child), nasal allergies, pacifier use, bottle feeding with the baby lying down, and a family history of ear infections are all associated with increased risk. Children with palatal problems like cleft palate, or muscle tone problems like Down syndrome are especially at risk of having persistent middle ear fluid. This is because the Eustachian tube isn’t able to work when the palate is more pliant. Breastfeeding and some immunizations can be protective against ear infections.

What is middle ear fluid?

Middle ear fluid, also known as a middle ear effusion, is residual fluid left over from an old ear infection. It can cause issues with hearing and speech, and even with balance. After an ear infection, the fluid drains away in 60 percent of kids within one month, and 90 percent of kids within three months.

Sometimes children with persistent ear infections need to get ear tubes, which are small hollow cylinders inserted surgically into the eardrum by an otolaryngologist (ear, nose and throat (ENT) surgeon). Their purpose is to temporarily bypass the immature Eustachian tube, and allow fluid to drain into the ear canal.

Last Edited: July 6, 2016
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