Ear Care For Children And Why It’s Important
Our ears are an essential part of our body, and without them, there’s so much we wouldn’t be able to experience. This is why it’s so important to take care of your child’s ears to help prevent damage. Here’s some of the ways you can look after your child’s ears and why it’s important to do so.
How the Ear Works
The ear is made up of the outer, middle, and inner ear, and every part works in harmony so we can hear the world around us. The outer ear consists of the pinna (the part of the ear we can see), ear canal, and eardrum (tympanic membrane). Working together, these three components capture sounds and channel them into the middle ear. Sound is transmitted to tiny bones in the middle ear which, in turn, transmit the sound to the inner ear. The inner ear has the specialized nerve cells that transfer the sound to the brain.
The ear canal contains a number of glands that produce ear wax (cerumen). It’s normal to have a lining of cerumen in the ear canal: this helps protect the middle ear from the dirt and dust we come across every day.
How to Clean Your Child’s Ears
Cleaning your child’s ears is a simple task. The most important thing to remember is that you should never use cotton swabs inside their ears. This can push the cerumen down, packing it in, and preventing sound from reaching the tympanic membrane and even damage the tympanic membrane, if the cotton swab is pushed in too far.
If you have trouble with hard cerumen, the best solution is to place two pipette drops of olive oil, hydrogen peroxide, or mineral oil (at room temperature) inside their ears. Leave it in for five minutes on each side, and you’ll find the cerumen loosens significantly. Make sure your child lies down, with the ear being treated at the time facing up, or the fluid will run out of the ear. Another specialized, over-the-counter product for ear wax removal is Debrox.
You should clean your child’s ears regularly to remove dirt and dust. The safest and most efficient way to do this is by using a washcloth or cotton swab on the outside of the ear. Only use soap and warm water on the outside of the ear.
If there is significant cerumen buildup within the ear canal (outer ear), sounds are muffled and not transmitted to the middle ear and, subsequently, the inner ear which transfers sound to the brain via the auditory nerve.
A place for more significant damage is in the middle ear due to repeated ear infections. The ear infections, called “otitis media”, cause a buildup of fluid or pus, making it difficult for the tympanic membrane and tiny bones in the middle ear to move sound to the auditory nerve in the inner ear. Repeated ear infections can cause damage to the structures in the middle ear that can result in permanent hearing loss.
The inner ear can be a source of hearing loss as well. There are fine, tiny hairs in the inner ear (nerve cells in the cochlea) that send sound signals to the brain via the auditory nerve. If they are damaged, they can produce permanent hearing loss. Exposure to loud noise is one way in which damage can be caused upon the hairs of the inner ear that send signals to the brain.
When You Should See a Doctor?
You should see a doctor if one of the following occurs:
- Your child experiences a change in hearing
- Your child has ear pain and/or fever
- You notice blood or pus oozing from the ear
- There is something stuck in your child’s ear or there is significant wax buildup in the ear canal
The Importance of Ear Care
The main issue for children’s ears is ear infections. You can help prevent these by taking good care of your child’s ears, by avoiding second hand smoke exposure, providing proper hand and mouth hygiene, keeping up-to-date with scheduled vaccines and the annual flu vaccine, and breastfeeding your baby. However, you should see a doctor immediately if you think something is wrong: untreated ear infections can lead to hearing loss. For non-infection related ear problems, keeping the ear canal clear of cerumen/foreign bodies and reducing exposure to loud noises will preserve hearing as well. Children’s ears (just like the rest of their body) are still growing and developing. By looking after their ears when your child is young, you can ensure that they remain in excellent health even when they are fully grown.