Recurrent otitis media is another way to say frequent ear infections. This generally is a problem for young children. This occurs more often in younger children because of catching frequent colds and infections, the size of their nose, the anatomy in the back of their throat (pharynx) and swelling at the opening of the Eustachian tube.
The Eustachian tube is a very tiny tube that runs from the middle ear (where ear infections occur) to the back of the pharynx. The eustachian tube opens for an eighth of a second every time we swallow. This allows the pressure in the ear to equalize or pop open. You have felt this pressure while flying in an airplane when you are about to land. Your ears feel full and once you yawn or swallow hard, the eustachian tube opens and allows the pressure in the middle ear to open or release.
In small children it is easier to block the opening to the eustachian tube because of their smaller size. If the ear does not open and close properly, pressure and fluid can build up. Since the pressure builds up, the bacteria are harder to treat and serous fluid stays in the ear, which leads to incomplete clearing of the infection. That is why every time your pediatrician looks in your child’s ear, they say there is still an infection. No it’s not infected, just old fluid that may take time to clear.
An example of how the Eustachian tube works is to take a paper cup and fill it with liquid and place a lid on the cup. This cup acts like the middle ear-a sealed compartment. Place the straw through the lid and this represents the Eustachian tube. Suck all the liquid out of the cup and then suck all of the air out of the cup and the cup will collapse.
When a Eustachian tube is not working properly this leads to hearing problems, fluid build up, and a drop in oxygen in the middle ear. This allows anaerobic bacteria to grow in the middle ear. Anaerobic bacteria are harder ear infections to treat.
Please do not have tubes placed in your child’s ear, until you have visited with an allergist immunologist that is trained in addressing recurrent infections.
More About Recurrent Ear Infections