Children ear, nose and throat issues should be treated early to prevent complications in adulthood

Contributing columnistJune 6, 2014 

There are a number of ear, nose and throat related disorders that can be present in children and young adults. Many are much easier to treat during childhood, and treating them early and effectively is an important step in preventing these issues from causing further complications.

By far, the most common pediatric issue seen in an otolaryngologist — or ear, nose and throat — practice is recurrent ear infections. Typically, this is a problem seen in children under age 5. While an ear infection may be painful and unpleasant, repeated infections can have long-term, negative effects such as a hole in the eardrum or hearing loss.

For children experiencing three to four infections a year, the use of ear tubes is the most common and effective method of treatment for managing and preventing recurrent infections.

Ear tubes are small, plastic tubes that are positioned within the ear drums to prevent fluid or infection from building. This is an outpatient procedure that requires general sedation for five to 10 minutes. Recovery time is quick, and physicians see a major improvement in the recurrence of infections in 95 percent of cases.

In older children, the most common ENT problem is recurrent sore throats, or tonsil or adenoid infections. While most of the acute infections can be effectively treated with a course of antibiotics, experiencing four to five infections a year may indicate the need to remove tonsils, adenoids or both.

Another childhood ENT condition is obstructions in the airway, which most commonly presents as snoring or possible obstructive sleep apnea, causing disruptive episodes where a patient stops breathing. Childhood apnea can result in disruption of sleep, which can result in decreased concentration in school and behavior problems. In many young children, removing the tonsils or adenoids often relieves this obstruction and cures the sleep apnea.

Allergic rhinitis, and recurrent and chronic sinus infections is also common in children. Typically, if a child's allergies are not relieved by antihistamine treatment, formal allergy testing and medication may be required. Adenoidectomies will also typically improve allergy symptoms, as well as recurring and chronic sinus infections.

In recent years, we've begun using a newer technique for those with acute, chronic sinus problems. Balloon sinuplasty uses a catheter and balloon to open and dilate the sinus cavity. This treatment is extremely effective in curing recurrent sinus infections in children and has almost completely replaced standard endoscopic sinus surgery in pediatric patients. This procedure requires general sedation for about 30 minutes.

Last, a visit to an ENT can be helpful for young children with a delay in speech or language development. A number of things can cause this, and ENT can help to ensure that there is nothing biological, like hearing loss, that would compound the speech and language problem. The ENT can also work with a team of therapists to create a treatment plan.

Dr. Robert Wilson is an otolaryngologist with KentuckyOne Health ENT Center.

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