School is out, and kids are excited to enjoy their summer break! As a family, are you heading out on vacation or planning a “staycation” with lots of fun activities close to home?
In the heat of the summer, it’s common to spend more time in the water. As a result, the risk of ear infection increases because of the ears’ exposure to conditions that could foster infections.
Even if your kids haven’t had any summer ear infections yet, it’s essential to be aware of the risks. Every parent can be proactive about protecting their children’s ears and minimizing the chances of pain and infections.
Summer Conditions: Why Ear Infections Are More Common
Most primary care physicians, pediatricians, and ENTs will agree that ear infections are more common during the summer season. Why does this happen?
There is a combination of factors that could be contributing to the development of ear infections:
- More swimming and water activities, exposing the ears to moisture
- Weather conditions, such as heat and humidity
Ear infections in children are so prevalent that they are one of the most common reasons for visits to a primary care physician.
The Difference Between Winter and Summer Ear Infections
Even though ear infection symptoms are similar in the winter and summer months, there are notable differences because of the way the infections develop. Understanding these underlying causes is essential so the ENT can provide an effective treatment to clear up the infections.
With a winter ear infection, the condition likely develops as a secondary infection after an upper respiratory illness (such as the flu or a cold). When the infection starts to settle within the middle ear, it causes fluid to back up and results in pain and discomfort. Winter ear infections are most often associated with viral illnesses.
On the other hand, summer ear infections are more commonly caused by bacteria or fungus. When there is moisture in the ear because of water exposure and humidity, then it results in inflammation. In addition, the ongoing wet conditions in the ear canal create a breeding ground where bacteria can grow.
Factors That Increase the Likelihood of Summer Ear Infections
The skin within the ears is delicate, which means that it can be injured easily. When an injury happens within the ear, it increases the likelihood of an infection developing.
Potential factors that increase the likelihood of a summer ear infection include:
- Not drying out the ears after spending time in the water (a pool, lake, sprinklers, or the ocean)
- Wearing headphones too much
- Scratching the ears
- Using cotton swabs inside the ears
- Skin allergies
Other factors that can increase the chances of an ear infection include exposure to hair care products in the ears or wearing hearing aids.
Signs Your Child Has an Ear Infection
Young children don’t have the understanding or communication skills to let parents know when they are experiencing symptoms or discomfort. So, it can be hard to know when it’s time to take your child to an ENT for diagnosis and treatment.
Watch for these common signs of ear infections in children:
- Pulling or tugging at the ears
- Crying or fussiness (paired with other symptoms)
- Difficulty sleeping
- Visible drainage from the ears
- Change in balance or clumsiness
- Not responding to quiet sounds
- Difficulty hearing
If you notice any of these symptoms, it could be time to talk to a doctor. A primary care physician can often be a great resource. But they will refer you to speak to an ENT specialist if the ear infection is recurring or isn’t responding to typical treatments.
Why Are Children More Prone to Summer Ear Infections?
People of all ages can get ear infections, but the risk is higher in young children. So why do children tend to have these problems more often than adults?
Two factors can increase the risk of ear infections in children. First, a child’s immune system is still developing, which means it’s not as effective as an adult’s immune system. Children have a more challenging time fighting illnesses or infections for this reason.
Another factor that increases the likelihood of a childhood ear infection is because of the structure of the eustachian tubes. These tubes are more level and smaller in children compared to adults. So, the fluid has a harder time training out of the ears, even in normal circumstances.
When the Eustachian tubes are damp (from water exposure or swimming), it’s possible that the lining can become swollen because of an infection. As a result, there can be a blockage that keeps the fluid from draining and causes the development of an infection.
Diagnostic Process for Ear Infections
In most situations, the diagnostic process for a childhood ear infection is simple. First, the ENT will perform a physical examination, look inside the ears, and discuss the symptoms.
During the examination, the ENT looks inside the ears using an otoscope. This tool has a light at the end of it, allowing the doctor to get a closer look at what is happening inside. For example, if there is an infection, the eardrum will appear to be bulging and red.
Other diagnostics might include tympanometry, which uses air pressure and sound tones to see how flexible the eardrum is, or a pneumatic otoscope that blows air puffs into the ear canal to see if fluid is behind the eardrum.
Additionally, the doctor will ask about lifestyle factors and recent health problems. If the child has been swimming a lot or experienced a recent head cold, there’s a good chance of an ear infection.
Treatment Options to Clear Up Summer Ear Infections
The best treatment is the one that addresses the underlying cause of the ear infection. It’s common to prescribe an antibiotic for an ear infection, and your child will need to take this medication for 7 – 10 days. Additionally, you can use over-the-counter medications to manage the symptoms, such as pain relievers.
If the ear infections are recurring, your ENT will want to discuss other treatment options. For example, the child might benefit from ear tubes to keep the ears draining and minimize the risk of fluid building up and causing infection.
Schedule an ENT Consultation for Ear Infections
If you or a family member is suffering from symptoms related to an ear infection, then don’t delay a consultation with an ENT in the local area: near Collin County or Dallas. Our Collin County Ear, Nose, and Throat team is just a phone call away. For your convenience, we have two offices nearby, in Frisco and Plano, TX. Type in our online form when you are ready to make an appointment or call us at (972) 596-4005.