Published on February 22, 2022

Pediatric ENT Will Offer a Look into Causes
and Treatments for Middle Ear Infections and Fluid

Many parents are all too aware of the pain of earaches in their children; maybe even remembering how bad it was for them when they were kids.

Even a 6-month-old who can’t talk yet might be especially fussy, with their little hands digging in their ears.

February is Kids’ ENT Health Month, and Silver Cross Hospital is partnering with Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital on its New Lenox campus to make physicians, nurses and parents aware of the causes and treatments for chronic ear issues in children.

Douglas Johnston, Pediatric ENT
Dr. Douglas Johnson

“Ear problems can begin as early as 6 months old, because the child’s anatomy, including the eustachian tube, isn’t fully developed yet,” said Dr. Douglas Johnston, a Pediatric Otolaryngologist – ENT specialist -- with Lurie Children’s Hospital’s New Lenox office.

“In most cases, simple antibiotic treatments can take care of middle ear infections, but in the meantime, it is a quality-of-life issue, with pain and temporary hearing loss. And if ear fluid becomes chronic, there could be longer-duration hearing loss and possible impediment to speech development.”

Dr. Johnston, who specializes in Pediatric Otolaryngology – children’s ears, noses, throats and necks -- will conduct a Zoom lecture on the “Impact and Treatment of Recurrent Otitis Media and Chronic Middle Ear Fluid in Children” at 5 p.m. March 9.

In his lecture, Dr. Johnston will show how an underdeveloped eustachian tube – a 1.5-inch conduit between the nasal area and the middle ear – can trap negative pressure and middle ear fluid, which can possibly become infected.

If caused by a virus, like the common cold, the blockage and resultant ear fluid generally doesn’t result in significant ear pain, Dr. Johnston said. But if the fluid causes an infection, he added, the children and their parents will know it because of fevers, irritability, or poor sleep.

The cause is key, Dr. Johnston said, given how wary the medical community and parents are about unnecessary use of antibiotics, especially in young children.

Even when treated with antibiotics, Dr. Johnston said, if the child gets more than three ear infections in six months, or four within a year, they may be a candidate for placement of a tiny plastic or metal tube in one or both ear drums that restore normal pressure and eliminate ear fluid and decrease the risk for infection.

“It’s like opening a window a crack when it gets stuffy in your house,” Dr. Johnston said.

The surgery takes about 15 minutes, he said, including placing the child under general anesthesia. He comforts parents concerned about the risks and after-effects of anesthesia, noting that there are no long-term risks and children tolerate it well.

The tubes – invisible without a special scope – are in place about six to 18 months, he said, and then fall out on their own. The pediatrician and/or ENT will then monitor the child to make sure the eustachian tube can work properly on its own.

Dr. Johnston plans to keep his March 9 Zoom lecture brief – about 30 minutes including time for questions.

“I want it to be informative, but I want to make sure I don’t take up too much time from medical professionals and parents.”

Click here to register for this lecture.

Physicians on Silver Cross Hospital’s Medical Staff have expertise in their areas of practice to meet the needs of patients seeking their care. These physicians are independent practitioners on the Medical Staff and are not the agents or employees of Silver Cross Hospital. They treat patients based upon their independent medical judgment and they bill patients separately for their services.