Decrease in Number of Ear Infections
For many children, ear infections are a part of life. They are the number-one reason children are taken to the doctor’s office. Childhood surgeries are also mostly due to ear infections and their related problems. This is not that surprising when you consider that nearly 80% of toddlers will have had at least one ear infection by age 3. That’s just for one occurrence—nearly 40% will have as many as three bouts with infection by that age.
However, in recent years, a particular vaccine seems to have helped reduce the number of incidents related to ear infections. A nearly decade-long study helped sort out the facts related to this fortunate decline.
An introduction to the pneumococcal conjugate vaccine came to the United States in the year 2000. What researchers noted while tracking this was a decline in ear infections and related illnesses, a trend particularly noticeable in 2004. The PCV13 vaccine was then introduced in 2010, and since then, toddlers aged 2 and younger saw a drastic improvement in middle ear infections. Researchers were able to determine this fact by analyzing the number of ear infection-associated medical visits.
This is significant not just for the children who have to suffer through the infection, but for parents and healthcare workers as well. Less missed days from school and work also reduced the expense of medical treatment. The number of prescribed antibiotics in children was also reduced, which is a good turn as well. While some vaccines have been around for a few years, there are newer ones, and researchers are keen on continuing to monitor the response to such preventative methods and their outcomes.
Chronic Ear Infections Caused by Undetected Bacteria
For many of us, ear infections are a part of childhood not fondly remembered. Unfortunately, the number of children that suffer from chronic ear infections is substantial—and the reason for this, as researchers have discovered, is that some bacteria go unnoticed. One kind in particular can lead not only to ear infections, but also to other respiratory issues that may become chronic.
The strain, known as NTHI, can be found around the mucus membranes of almost 50% of children. However, under the right conditions, the bacteria can begin to thrive and grow. It has been known to cause a number of infections in the ear, sinuses and lungs, therefore making chronic conditions likely to occur. The problem with NTHI is that is has become difficult to treat: While preferred treatments for ear infections, for example, may clear up the problem, it may not completely rid the middle ear of infection. This allows for another flare-up, which may then lead to another ear infection. Medicine-resistant strains such as this have been the focus of some recent studies.
While looking into the causes of some of these chronic respiratory infections, scientists were able to observe how the bacteria reacted to the body’s own defense mechanism, our immune system. It was noted that certain processes of the immune system actually help NTHI become stronger and maintain its hold on its host. By using the immune system against itself, the strain is now not only able to feed, but also goes through a sort of transformation. By structurally changing or mutating, the strain, in effect, camouflages itself. When this happens, it is no longer targeted by the immune system; it is now overlooked.
Resistant strains are nothing new to the medical community, but impetus is being put on finding ways to prevent this from happening. More study is needed to determine the best way to treat infections caused by bacteria such as NTHI, and researchers have some avenues they feel may lead to effective treatment.
Researchers have discovered a possible reason for why some young children are more susceptible to ear infections than others. The recent findings may require a revision of some textbooks. It has long been noted that certain children frequently battle with middle-ear infections such as glue ear. This is a buildup of fluid in the ear chamber. Updated understanding of how the ear develops and functions holds the key to understanding this childhood phenomenon.
While studying lab mice, it was found that the lining of the middle ear chamber can come from two different types of tissue: Endoderm and neural crest cells are the options. Endoderm tissue develops a protective and cleansing lining of cilia. These small hair strands aid in keeping the middle ear clean and are also what prove to be especially effective in fighting off infection. This offensive mechanism ensures a well-swept environment in which fluid has a difficult time building up.
On the other hand, neural crest cells are smooth and hairless. This allows fluid and debris to collect with less difficulty resulting in more infections. Scientists are unsure as to why there are two types of cells. Birds and reptiles, for example, do not have this option; it may be due to the number of bones in the middle ear. The three bones in a human ear require room for movement.
Just why the body is programmed to have one or the other tissue type is still uncertain. However, what is known is that certain textbooks will need to be revised. Previously, it was thought that the development of the endoderm tissue was merely a continuation of the lining in another part of the ear—this, at least, has been cleared up. It is hoped that further study can help improve the treatment of childhood ear infections and other middle ear disorders.
Ear infections can be extremely painful. It’s easy to know when one of your children has one if he or she is old enough to speak. But what if it is an infant or very young child that you are concerned about? Here are some signs to look for that can help you to identify an ear infection in an infant.
Is the child increasingly irritable? While this can be a symptom of many different conditions, when combined with the other symptoms that follow, it points to an ear infection. For example, pulling at one or both ears is a telltale sign of an ear infection. Your baby may also experience difficulty sleeping. Fever can occur. Fluid may also leak from the ear that is infected.
If your child is old enough to crawl or walk, you may notice balance problems which occur as a result of the ear infection. Try whispering to the baby on the side where the infection seems to be. Oftentimes an ear infection will cause diminished hearing. It may also affect the appetite of the child.
If your child does seem to have an ear infection, do not delay in seeking medical attention. Many more serious conditions can occur if an ear infection goes untreated. The infection could grow more serious and spread to the brain. Temporary hearing loss related to the infection can become permanent. Permanent hearing damage can also lead to speech problems.
The doctor will usually prescribe an antibiotic and may also give you ear drops for your child. Be sure to complete whatever treatment is provided, including any follow-up visits that are scheduled. Ear infections in children frequently recur, and it may take more than one antibiotic to do the job. Severe cases where infections persist for several months may call for temporary tubes being placed in the Eustachian tubes to keep them open in order to alleviate pressure.