What You Need to Know About Ear Infections

We have partnered with Ascension Sacred Heart to bring relevant and important information to Pensacola Mom Collective readers through this sponsored post.

ear infectionsThe American Speech and Hearing Association has dedicated May as “Better Speech and Hearing” month.

To bring awareness to our children’s speech and hearing, I had a wonderful discussion with James M Coticchia, MD, a chief of pediatric otolaryngology at Ascension Sacred Heart, about ear infections, tubes, and the services the hospital provides. He is a wealth of information, and I’m encouraged to know we have a great partner for our kids right here in Pensacola to help with all things ear, nose, and throat.

Symptoms of Otitis Media (Ear Infection)

Ear infections are prevalent in infants and children. In fact, besides the common cold, it is the most prevalent childhood illness. Some symptoms that will clue us in to our child’s ear infection include fever, irritability, tugging of the ear, dizziness, and drainage from the ear.

A New Understanding of the Cause

Dr. Coticchia shared that 10 years ago, the literature focused on the orientation of the eustachian tube because infants and children commonly suffered from ear infections. The theory was that because children’s eustachian tubes are shorter, more narrow, and more horizontal than adults’, the anatomy would make it more difficult for air and fluid to move through the middle ear.

However, research has made new discoveries and shown us that the cause of infection has more to do with the function of disease and infection within the child’s immune system.

Current literature and clinical expertise have determined that an upper respiratory infection, allergies, or a sinus infection can result in swelling around the eustachian tube. This swelling can create negative pressure in the middle ear which can lead to the development of an ear infection.

Immune System + Risk Factors

As parents, we are always looking for ways to support our child’s immune system. Some of the best ways to do this are to make sure your child is getting enough sleep, eating nutritious meals, and practicing good hygiene. If you have an infant, breastfeeding is also a great way to prevent ear infections from being a normal occurrence.

Dr. Coticchia said that family history, gender, and daycare could be contributing factors to developing ear infections. If there is a family history of ear infections, the child is more likely to develop them. Statistically, boys are more likely to get ear infections than girls.

Studies have also shown that 21% of children who attend daycare develop frequent ear infections, compared to the 3% of children who stay at home contract ear infections. Oftentimes this can be due to the runny noses and coughs that persist in daycare facilities. What may start as a minor cold turns may turn into a sinus infection, spiraling into a bacterial infection.

Dr. Coticchia recommended that if your child has active nasal drainage for 12 days, you should be seen by the primary care doctor.

Ear Infection Aftermath

After a child has been treated for an ear infection, 50% of children will still have fluid present at one month. And because all fluid contains bacteria, these pathogens predispose the child to developing another ear infection. Consequently, it is important to support the child’s immune system during this critical time period! Once 4-6 months have passed since the infection, it is not as common for a residual fluid to persist in the middle ear.

Impact on Speech Sound Development

Research has shown ear infections can have a negative impact on speech sound development.

Children learn how to produce sounds in words by listening to us talk. The unvoiced consonants are particularly difficult for an individual to perceive if they have fluid in their ear(s). There are 8 unvoiced consonants in the English language (/p/, /t/, /k/, /ch/, /f/, /s/, /th/ as in thin, and /hw/ as in whale). If the child cannot hear these sounds, they will not know how to produce them, making their speech difficult to be understood by the listener. Therefore, it is important to get ear infections treated as soon as possible.

Recurrent Ear Infections

Dr. Coticchia said that a child who has had recurrent infections, 3-4 infections within 6 months or 4-6 infections within 12 months, would be a candidate for getting ear tubes. Children who have persistent ear infections with fluid and hearing loss could also benefit from tubes.

Ear Tubes

An ear tube is used to provide long-term drainage and ventilation to middle ears with persistent fluid buildup, chronic middle ear infections, or frequent infections. Dr. Coticchia went on to explain how simple of a procedure tube placement is.

In fact, it is the most common operative treatment to date in children. The procedure itself only takes 5 minutes, and the child usually goes home the same day.

The form of treatment can be such a positive form of intervention to eliminate pesky ear infections.

Specializing in Our Kids

The Studer Family Children’s Hospital has a dedicated operating room and staff that is JUST for children. This means that the nurses, doctors, and staff are experts at making children (and parents) feel calm and supported through this new experience. The pre-op and post-op rooms are decorated with cheerful designs to make it a more pleasant place. Not only is the medical care exceptional, but the attention to detail makes all the difference when easing a nervous child’s fear

The Whole Child

At the Studer Family Children’s Hospital, the doctors work as a team to support the whole child. The hospital has a division of audiology where hearing screens and tests can be completed.

If your child has experienced acute or chronic ear infections, know that you would be in exceptional care at The Studer Family Children’s Hospital.

James M Coticchia, MD


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