My experience with my son’s recurring ear infections (part 3 of 3) — The lessons learned
We were being extra careful all along in terms of hygiene — in fact probably more careful than most families. We were on top of vaccines. We had a cleaner on a weekly basis, had healthy food, and stayed active as a family. In fact, he was in one of the best preschools in the area and we paid quite a lot for tuition. Still, these conditions, common cold, ear infection, hand-foot-mouth diseases, seemed unavoidable in the first year for any kids starting childcare.
I wonder if anyone was unlucky like we were, to suffer through multiple ear infections with endless questions, wondering, pain, up all night, antibiotic resistance and allergy, trips to the doctor’s, sitting in the urgent care with a roomful of terribly sick adults and kids, rushing to the 24-hr pharmacies, and being rejected for second opinions. I wonder how many were lucky as I was, being able to have trips to the doctor’s covered by insurance while having a strong support team of doctors, school, nanny, husband, parents… Here are some lessons I learned, and hopefully someone in my shoe could save some time in understanding why and perhaps go straight to a solution:
- We are not alone. Ear infection is the most common reason for a sick child visit in the USA, accounting for 16M episodes a year. 700k kids end up getting an “ear tube” a year to relieve recurring infections.
- Let’s try to understand the doctors. Doctors talk fast, especially ENT specialists. What on earth is an “otitis media” due to a blocked “eustachian tube”, and we need a “myringotomy” where a “tympanostomy tube” is placed on a “tympanic membrane”? He’s basically saying he has blocked drainage between the ear and the throat which has an infection. It’s happening too often and he needs to cut a small incision in the eardrum to drain the fluid behind the eardrum and place a small tube to keep the draining going.
- It’s not your fault: it has a lot to do with human anatomy and how children are constructed differently from adults as they grow. The tube that’s connecting the middle ear to the nasopharynx (upper throat to the back of the nose), the “Eustachian tubes” are narrower and more horizontal than adults, which makes them more difficult to drain and more likely to get clogged.
- Ear infections could be diagnosed early if experienced doctors get a good visual of the eardrum, and prevented or resolved quickly with a nasal wash — an experienced ENT physician once told me that a nasal wash could be the key to resolve an ear infection early. If the nasal wash could help drain the fluid from the blocked eustachian tube, no antibiotics are needed, and the infection could resolve quickly. The only problem, of course, is how to get children to get used to a nasal wash.
- They will often self-resolve and grow stronger. Doctors sometimes tell us to go home to wait and watch with only supportive care to see if the infection gets better on its own. And most of the time, the infections will resolve on its own. The pain and suffering shall pass as they build out the immune system to fight the infections.
- We don’t need antibiotics every single time. I used to feel at a loss when I don’t get a prescription — “I asked for a day off from work and you prescribed me nothing but tell me to go home and wait?” Antibiotics are not needed for viral infections. Children could develop resistance to them, and they mess up their gut. I’ve learned to trust my doctors and not every ear infection is an emergency.
- We could be in control. With all the schools going virtual and we all asked to stay home as much as possible, it’s a nightmare thinking about taking my children in the doctors’ office for an in-person visit. In observing what the doctors do and ask lots of questions, I feel comfortable helping with the monitoring and tracking of symptoms as they tell me to. I would add to my medicine cabinet a good digital thermometer, and perhaps buy a digital otoscope to communicate with my doctors in case I have to do a virtual visit. I will be able to provide images of the ear, nose, and throat for an informed conversation.
I thought I could somewhat help all of us, that’s why I started Remmie Health, to build this ear nose, and throat monitor that parents like us could use. At least we wouldn’t be wondering in the dark. Hopefully, by having a tool similar to what doctors would use in their office to look for ear infections at home, we could be the first line of defense towards recurring conditions, to find it out early, to watch it getting better, to report worsening conditions, to get second opinions, all through direct communication with our trusted doctors, and even to get prescription directly. In today’s world, with COVID-19 rampaging, all of us are facing decisions and swamped with anxiety. One thing I always remember is that any decision to keep our family healthy is a good decision.