Ear infections are more common in children than adults, mainly because children engage in more activities that can provoke an ear infection, such as drinking from a baby bottle or sippy cup while lying down or failing to remove water that’s lodged in the ear canal promptly. The Eustachian tubes and immune systems of kids who are six months to two years also are still developing and growing. They may also be in a situation, such as nursery school or group childcare, with kids who are sick but still present at the school, transmitting infections to their peers.
An ear infection is caused by viruses or bacteria that lodge in the middle ear. It typically occurs when the sufferer has the flu, cold or an allergy, causing congestion and nasal passage swelling that can back up into the Eustachian tubes as the nose and throat swell. The Eustachian tubes run from the middle ear to the back of the throat, behind the nasal passages. The tubes are used to regulate air pressure in the middle ear, refresh the ear’s air and drain secretions from the area. When the tubes close as a result of swelling, mucous or inflammation, the accumulated fluids have nowhere to go but back into the middle ear. Children suffer the most because their tubes are narrow and more easily blocked, making them more difficult to drain.
Adenoids May Be the Culprits
Adenoids are two small pads of tissues in the higher regions of the back of the nose that are responsible for immune system activity. That makes them especially vulnerable to inflammation and infection. Because they are located near the Eustachian tube openings, they are key to ear infections. When they enlarge because of infection or inflammation, they block the tubes, thus backing up fluids into the middle ear. Children’s adenoids are larger than adult versions, making them particularly susceptible to this problem.