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Undiagnosed and Untreated Ear Infections for Children

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What Happens when Your Child’s Doctor Fails to Diagnose an Ear Infection in New Jersey

Nearly 90% of children under three suffer from at least one ear infection, causing flooded doctors’ offices each year. The fundamental problem occurs when a child’s ear infection goes undiagnosed, opening the door for significant complications that may spell permanent repercussions for the rest of their life. When physicians and other medical professionals fail to diagnose or misdiagnose pediatric ear infections, leading to hearing loss or other long-term consequences, parents are right to question these healthcare providers’ competence and wonder if they had seen another doctor, if their vulnerable child would have suffered the same fate. In these situations, it is highly advisable to seek legal guidance from an experienced pediatric malpractice attorney who can further investigate the claim and hold negligent providers or facilities accountable.

Our childhood malpractice lawyers are highly equipped in the realm of pediatric malpractice litigation, as we have dedicated our lives to injured infants and children who suffer harm due to medical errors across the state of New Jersey. A member of our staff is available immediately to assist you, so please contact us today at 866-708-8617 for a free consultation. Read on to learn more about ear infections in children and what can happen when a medical professional misses an ear infection in your child.

How do Ear Infections Develop in Children?

Ear infections result from middle ear inflammation and pooled fluid behind the eardrum. They commonly follow colds, infections, or viruses. Infections cause inflamed eustachian tubes, the canals that drain fluid from the ear to the throat, thus blocking the ear’s drainage system and building pressure in the middle ear. The eustachian tubes connect a small pocket behind the eardrum to the middle ear. The fluid buildup is a breeding ground for bacteria and viruses that infect the area. Since children have smaller eustachian tubes, they are more likely to suffer frequent ear infections than adults.

Common Signs of Pediatric Ear Infection

Although some ear infections are painless, others cause ear pain, fever, hearing loss, and dizziness, a condition called acute otitis media. Every parent knows the agony of trying to soothe a screaming toddler with fever, ear pain, and sleeplessness. Some choose to turn to home remedies passed down in the family first, such as warm compresses, propping the baby’s head up with pillows, and holding or otherwise soothing babies and young children through their pain. However, high fevers, especially in babies; prolonged symptoms; hearing loss; severe pain; or ear discharge typically send parents to the pediatrician. There, the doctor can look for clues to the origins and treatment in the child’s medical history and in the ears with special instruments, like the otoscope that illuminates the ear canal and the tympanometer that tests the flexibility of the eardrum under air pressure.

While some ear infections resolve on their own in a few days with an over-the-counter pain reliever and antibiotics, early diagnosis and treatment ward off more serious conditions and complications.

Complications from Undiagnosed or Untreated Ear Infection

With undiagnosed ear infections, complications can and do occur.  When acute otitis media persists, children can develop meningitis that causes the tissue around the brain and spinal cord to swell. Viral and bacterial meningitis can cause headaches, fevers, nausea, stiff necks, seizures, and blackouts. It can be fatal or result in brain damage if not diagnosed and treated quickly. Since the beginning symptoms appear like the flu, pediatricians must be cautious and thorough when examining a child with what seems to be a flu that followed an ear infection.

Another complication, while rare, is acute mastoiditis. This serious condition is caused by infected temporal bones that envelop the ear canal. Since the bacterial infection that causes it may erode the internal structures of the temporal bones, a condition called cholesteatoma, quick treatment is also necessary. Symptoms vary but include ear pain, ear redness, fever, headaches, hearing loss, protruding ears from swelling, ear discharge, and neck abscesses. Prolonged ear infections may require a doctor to install ear tubes to help drain fluid.

Recurring ear infections may cause other complications, such as hearing loss that may be temporary or permanent. Hearing loss among young children is especially problematic as it may interfere with speech development and comprehension. Another serious complication is a brain abscess that develops from a lingering infection. The infected fluid turns to pus, which pools in the brain, causing fever, vomiting, nausea, headache, and loss of consciousness.

Additionally, any condition that causes fluid buildup around the eardrum can cause a ruptured eardrum from the pressure. Although the hole from the rupture typically heals by itself, some ruptures need surgical repair to heal. Finally, facial paralysis is a complication that occurs when the facial nerve responsible for facial expression becomes affected by an ear infection. The nerve runs through the ear and can cause partial facial paralysis.

Proper Diagnosis and Treatment for a Child’s Ear Infection is Critical

The primary takeaway from the literature on earaches is quick and aggressive treatment is the best approach to prevent a simple childhood illness from becoming a life-altering condition. Whichever earache type a pediatrician or other doctor encounters, they must diligently follow up with the patient. A lingering infection may have serious consequences. As crucial as follow-up is prescribing the right antibiotics and administering appropriate medications. For example, a child may require medication administered intravenously for a stubborn infection. Medication errors with a child’s ear infection can lead to dire results.

Equally critical to the child’s health and recovery is conducting the appropriate examination. The child may require further testing through a CT scan or MRI to check for abscesses and brain involvement if they experience persistent or repeat earaches. Sometimes surgery is the proper treatment. In all cases, a treating physician must not diminish the common ear infection as a wait-and-see proposition or confuse it with the common cold or flu.

Failure to Diagnose or Treat Ear Infection in a Child

Medical inadequacies that result from physicians who may be hurried, overworked, uninterested, incautious, or exhausted can be devastating for children. Sometimes physicians become jaded, seeing so many worried parents over their children’s slightest sniffles. Further, miscommunications or lack of communication between various treating physicians at urgent care centers or walk-in clinics can cause missed signs and opportunities to prevent further damage to vulnerable children. For example, when one physician prescribes ear drops to numb the pain and reduce the chances of infection, and the next doctor prescribes the same thing without conferring with the prior physician, an infection can linger and turn into mastoiditis.

In other situations, the physician fails to order antibiotics at all or prescribes the wrong medicine, leading to ineffective treatment or even allergic reaction in a child. As with any condition that requires quick diagnosis to enable timely treatment, an ear infection can be a mere three or four-day inconvenience or a childhood plague that costs parents unnecessary time, money, and anxiety. Worse yet, complications from an undiagnosed or untreated ear infection can lead to a nightmare for the child’s health, even damaging their brain or critical systems of their body like their hearing.

Did Your Child Suffer Complications from an Untreated Ear Infection in NJ?

Parents of young children who suffer ear infection complications that lead to permanent hearing loss or developmental delays in speech and comprehension should speak with a pediatric medical malpractice lawyer to fully understand their legal options. If negligence by a doctor, hospital, or other medical provider or facility damaged your child’s health, you may be entitled to receive compensation for your child’s past, current, and future medical costs and other psychological and physical losses due to malpractice.

If your injured child suffered from subpar medical care involving an ear infection in New Jersey, do not hesitate to contact us right away. Our attorneys are here to answer your questions, address your concerns, and discuss your case in detail. We offer free consultations around the clock. Call 866-708-8617.

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