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Expert Advice on How Parents Can Better Protect Their Kids This School Year

When school starts, parents will once again face an increase in ear, nose and throat (ENT) ailments –– which are nothing to sneeze at. But ENT problems often aren’t the result of spreading germs.

Ear, nose and throat problems can come from unexpected sources. By knowing what to look for, parents can better protect their kids. For example:

It’s in the genes. Most doctors agree genes could play a role in susceptibility to ear infections. If one or both parents experienced chronic ear infections growing up, their children are likely to be prone to ear infections too.

Misdiagnosed ADHD instead of sleep apnea. Enlarged tonsils or adenoids can cause sleep apnea––a common ailment in overweight children––which has symptoms similar to Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). Dr. Pine strongly suggests ruling out sleep apnea, before starting children on ADHD medication.

Under the radar third-hand smoke. Smokers are more likely to have children with upper respiratory and ear infections due to exposure to second- and third-hand smoke. Cilia in the nose beat to weed out germs. Smoke prevents cilia from beating effectively, so dirt and mucous are trapped, leading to infection. Because smoke lingers on fabric, avoid lighting up in the house and car and change clothes after smoking.

A stuffy nose = stuffy ears. Allergies block the Eustachian tube, which runs from the nose to the ear, causing swelling. If a child has a stuffy nose, it will likely lead to stuffy ears.

Sharing more than toys at day care. Ear infections aren’t contagious, but cold and flu viruses that can lead to ear infections circulate rapidly at daycare. Teach children good hygiene habits, like washing their hands, and regularly washing and disinfecting surface areas. Most importantly, keep sick children at home.

Though a common part of growing up, if ENT infections are recurrent, complications arise or prescribed treatment doesn’t work, parents should consult an otolaryngologist to find the root cause.

Harold S. Pine, Assistant Professor, Pediatric Otolaryngology, University of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston. Dr. Pine is a pediatric ENT surgeon. A board-certified otolaryngologist, he specializes in pediatric ear, nose and throat disorders, including recurrent ear infections, tonsil and adenoid problems, foreign body removal and airway evaluations.