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Health Bits

What You Need to Know About Your Child’s Ears, Nose and Throat!

By Dr. Johnna MacCormick, Chief of Otolaryngology

Choking hazards, foreign objects in unlikely places, swimmer’s ear and ear wax are common issues in children who come to CHEO for care. Here is some useful advice for parents and caregivers.

Choking Hazards

Children under three are very curious and want to put everything in their mouth. Children in this age group should not be given peanuts, hard candy or popcorn as they can cause choking. Similarly, hot dogs should be cut length-wise and grapes should be cut in half. Choking on these items can be very serious because the food item can cause the airway to block and may also directly go into the lungs. If this happens, the food item has to be removed from the lungs surgically.

Foreign Objects

What do Lego pieces, coins, beads, pebbles, earrings, corn, beans, candy and tiny batteries have in common? These are all items that Dr. MacCormick has seen shoved up a child’s nose, into their ear or swallowed. Removing these small items often requires a trip to a hospital emergency department. Some of these items should be removed as quickly as possible as they can cause serious damage. Here are a few important things to remember:

  1. Items that are put inside the nose can easily be inhaled and cause a blocked airway causing breathing difficulty for the child.

  2. Organic items such as food should be removed as quickly as possible as these items will begin to swell when in contact with liquid in the nose or throat and may cause a blocked airway.

  3. Watch batteries can cause serious electrical burns to the stomach if swallowed or tissue damage if left inside the nose or ear. If swallowed it will have to be removed urgently in the operating room.

  4. Magnetic items can have a very strong magnetic force once inside the body. Small magnets are often found in toys, jewelry or fridge ornaments and can be a real danger for children. If a child swallows more than one magnet over a short period, they can stick together as they travel through the intestine, creating a blockage and may eat away at the intestinal wall. It can be extremely dangerous if left untreated.

Swimmer’s Ear

Swimmer’s ear is an infection of the outer ear canal caused by water contamination often found in lakes and rivers. Children who have swimmer’s ear will have a tender ear and the surrounding area may also be tender. There may also be some drainage from the ear. A child with swimmer’s ear will have been swimming recently, and is less likely to have an accompanying cold as you would more likely see with middle ear infections. Some children may be more prone than others, especially those who have eczema. If your child is prone to swimmer’s ear, you may use cleansing drops (Burosol®) after swimming activities. Having your child use ear plugs is also a good idea to prevent swimmer’s ear. If your child develops swimmer’s ear despite these preventive steps, he may have to be seen by doctor who will prescribe ear drops to clear up the infection.

Ear Wax

Let the ear take care of cleaning itself. Do not use a Q-Tip to clean out the ear, as this pushes the wax further inside the ear. The best way to clean a child’s ears is to submerge the ear in bath water and move the head from side to side. If your child prefers to take a shower, letting the water stream into the ears directly does the job very effectively. One or two drops of mineral oil or peroxide for a few days can also help loosen the wax inside your child’s ear.

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