5 Reasons to bring your child to an ENT Specialist
January 16, 2020
Ear, nose and throat (ENT) problems in children are more common than you might think. Up to 40% of pediatric visits to a general practitioner are for ENT problems such as ear infections, sinusitis, allergies, and sleeping-related issues. While most of these problems can be managed by the general practitioner, some cases that are more complicated or persistent will require the expertise of an ENT specialist who is comfortable in handling children.
Young children are more vulnerable to ENT issues because their bodies and immune systems are still in the developing stages. Thus, their young bodies are more prone to dysfunction and infections.
Below is an overview of some of the most common ENT issues in children:
1. Snoring & OSA
Snoring should not be dismissed as just an inconvenience. This can be a sign of Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA) – a condition that occurs because the upper airway is partially or completely obstructed for a short period of time during sleep. This affects the flow of air through the narrowed or blocked airway, which can be heard as snoring, snorting or gasping. If a child has OSA, they may stop breathing for a few seconds at a time or make choking sounds during sleep. Most OSA or persistent snoring issues in children are due to large tonsils that block the airway.
Persistent snoring or choking episodes can affect the child’s quality of sleep, and lead to behavioural issues like hyperactivity, excessive daytime sleepiness, and inattention.
2. Chronic ear infections
Ear infections are common conditions in children due to their immature Eustachian tubes. Because these tubes are shorter and more horizontally-oriented, bacteria and viruses can get into the middle ear easily and cause infections. Symptoms of middle ear infections typically include loss of hearing, ear pain, frequent ear tugging, trouble sleeping and fever of unknown origin.
While most middle ear infections resolve on its own, there can be ear infections that occur frequently. An ENT specialist can take a closer look at your child’s condition and recommend the appropriate treatment.
3. Frequent tonsil infections
Tonsillitis, or inflamed tonsils, are typically caused by viral or bacterial infections. It occurs frequently in children and is usually accompanied by symptoms like severe sore throat, painful swallowing, fever and bad breath. In some cases, the tonsils may swell and form an abscess.
Children can recover from tonsil infections with home rest, pain relief and plenty of fluids. However, in some children, tonsillitis occurs repeatedly (i.e. a few times a year), causing problems like poor general health, poor school attendance, breathing or snoring problems, and swallowing difficulties. To reduce and frequency and severity of getting tonsil infections, your doctor may recommend removal of the tonsils (tonsillectomy).
Rhinitis (or sensitive nose) can be allergic or non-allergic, with the majority of cases being of the former. On the other hand, non-allergic rhinitis can be triggered by environmental factors like strong odours, cigarette smoke and temperature changes. Symptoms include sneezing, blocked nose, clear runny nose and itchy eyes. Up to 50% of children in Singapore are estimated to have allergic rhinitis, with the most common allergens being house dust mites.
Nasal congestion caused by allergic rhinitis can affect your child’s ability and performance in school and physical activities. It can also lead to poor sleep quality and snoring, which may affect their energy levels and concentration span the following day in school.
5. Hearing loss
The cause of hearing loss can be broadly split into two types: conductive and sensorineural causes. Common causes include impacted ear wax, ear infections, frequent and prolonged exposure to loud noises and trauma. A thorough check-up by an ENT specialist can assess and pinpoint the cause of hearing loss – which may either be reversible or permanent. Early intervention for children is necessary as undiagnosed hearing loss can severely impact the child’s speech and language development.
Where to get help
As seen, children are at high risk of developing various kinds of ENT problems. They can seek medical attention from a primary care doctor first but when these problems become persistent and affect the development or quality of life of your child, it is a sign that you should start looking for an ENT specialist for your child.
Medically reviewed by Dr Gan