Here are tips for treating these common ear, nose and throat issues in children.
Medical visits for ear, nose and throat problems in children total nearly 30 million per year. It’s no wonder, since a child’s ears, nose and throat are not fully developed until around age 6. But how do you know when your child’s medical issue requires a visit to a doctor or specialist – or when you can just treat it at home?
Here are some of the most common ENT problems in kids, as well as general guidelines for deciding whether you need to make an appointment with a doctor.
Until a child’s sinus drainage systems are fully developed, they’re more horizontal than vertical, so it’s easier for bacteria to get stuck and cause infections. That’s why ear infections are more common in young children than in older children or adults.
- When to treat at home: If the discomfort seems mild, warm compresses and over-the-counter pain relievers may help. But since ear infections are often quite painful and can worsen if not treated, they typically require a trip to the doctor.
- When to see your pediatrician: If your child is in pain, has fever, it’s their first or second ear infection in a year and if antibiotics were successful in treating previous infections.
- When to see an ENT: If your child has had four or more ear infections in one year or if antibiotics haven’t been successful, your pediatrician will likely recommend a visit to a pediatric ENT to discuss whether ear tubes may help.
Kids get colds all year long, which cause issues affecting the ears, nose and throat. Keep in mind that some of the symptoms of a common cold can easily be confused with symptoms of the flu, COVID-19 or other infections such as strep throat or a sinus infection.
- When to treat at home: If your child has sniffles, sneezes, a mild cough and/or sore throat but no fever and it lasts only a week or so.
- When to see your pediatrician: If your child is running a fever of 101 or higher for 72 hours, if the illness lasts for more than 10 days, if there’s thick yellow or green discharge (could indicate a sinus infection) or if there are also flu symptoms (chills, body/muscle aches, fatigue) or COVID-19 symptoms (any of the flu symptoms, as well as vomiting, diarrhea and/or new loss of taste or smell).
- When to see an ENT: Your pediatrician may refer you to an ENT if your child experiences recurring sinus infections or if minor illnesses repeatedly cause inflammation of the tonsils.
Snoring or Noisy Breathing
These conditions are not normal in children, or even in adults, and should be checked out when they occur on a regular basis.
- When to treat at home: If it only happens when your child has allergies, a cold or other minor illness, there is likely no need to see a doctor (unless other symptoms warrant a visit).
- When to see your pediatrician: If snoring and/or noisy breathing occur consistently, even when your child is not congested.
- When to see an ENT: Your pediatrician will likely refer you to an ENT if he/she suspects enlarged tonsils, adenoids, sleep apnea, chronic sinusitis or a deviated septum.
Dry air, especially indoor air in the wintertime, can cause nosebleeds. Children are also known to scratch and pick at their noses, which can cause excessive irritation inside the nasal passages, leading to nosebleeds.
- When to treat at home: If the nosebleed is the result of a minor trauma, like being struck in the nose with a toy, or it happens for other suspected reasons (such as when your child has a cold or allergies) and subsides quickly.
- When to see your pediatrician: If bleeding from an injury doesn’t subside or if your child is having frequent nosebleeds.
- When to see an ENT: Although uncommon, your pediatrician will likely refer you to an ENT to rule out potential causes of recurring nosebleeds such as a clotting disorder, if nosebleeds occur often, are heavy or aren’t alleviated with common measures like placing a humidifier in your child’s room.
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Date Last Reviewed: December 17, 2020
Editorial Review: Andrea Cohen, Editorial Director, Baldwin Publishing, Inc. Contact Editor
Medical Review: Perry Pitkow, MD