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Fluid in the Ear: Short Term Pain, Long Term Hearing Problems?

Fluid in the ear is fairly common among both children and adults. But when children experience fluid in the ear and frequent ear infections, there can be long term consequences to the child both physically and emotionally.

Statistics tell us that almost all parents have heard a doctor say, "Your child has fluid in the ear" at least once before the child is four years old.

Serous otitis media, or middle ear fluid, starts with a cold or respiratory infection. The space behind the eardrum, normally filled with air, becomes filled with fluid instead. Once the cold clears, the fluid will generally drain out of the ear through the Eustachian tube, which connects the middle ear to the nose. However, the Eustachian tube does not drain as effectively in children, so fluid remains in the ear. When this happens, sound waves are blocked and diffused, causing a loss of hearing. If a child has a mild case of fluid in the ear, he or she may not show any symptoms or signs of discomfort.

But fluid in the ear can also lead to a painful middle ear infection, known as acute otitis media (AOM).Acute otitis media occurs when germs grow in the fluid in the middle ear, causing an ear infection. Such an ear infection can cause an inflamed eardrum, fever, and the kind of sharp, constant earache that keeps the child crying--and the parents awake--for seemingly endless hours in the middle of the night.

Other symptoms of an acute ear infection might include fever, nausea, vomiting or dizziness. Older children will complain of an earache.  Children who are too young to speak will often tug at their ear and be more irritable than usual.

Fluid in the ear is the most common cause of hearing loss in children. Since the fluid blocks sound waves, a young child has more difficulty hearing words--and learning to how to say them and use them. The child can fall behind in the development of important communications skills.

Treatment of repeated ear infections is especially important because fluid in the ear can also cause long term damage. In some cases, it's possible for an infection to spread beyond the middle ear and into the bone structure, which can be especially dangerous and hard to cure.

For years, fluid in the ear was routinely treated with antibiotics. But recently, many doctors have decided that antibiotics may not the best answer, unless the fluid doesn't goes away on its own after several months. Research has shown that cold and allergy medications such as antihistamines and decongestants are not helpful in preventing fluid in the ear.

Acute ear infections generally require a physician's treatment. Your doctor can give you the latest thinking on the best course of actionFree Reprint Articles, based on current information and research.

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George McKenzie is a retired TV anchor, medical reporter and radio talk show host.

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