Back to School ENT Health

By: Mark B. Van Deusen, M.D.

As another first day of school approaches, children are excited to reunite with friends and ready to meet new academic challenges. Ear, nose, and throat illnesses are common in children. They can hinder academic performance and affect school attendance. Ensuring your children are healthy heading into the school year is a great way to guarantee your kids hit the ground running.

Ear infections are the most common illness for which antibiotics are prescribed in children. Recurrent ear infections can lead to school absences, missed days of work for parents, and frequent trips to the doctor’s office. Persistent fluid behind the eardrum, even in the absence of an active infection, can have an adverse effect on hearing. Children that are unable to hear well in the classroom can have difficulty paying attention and poor academic performance. An early evaluation by an otolaryngologist (ear, nose, and throat doctor) can help resolve these issues before they become chronic.

Tonsillitis, or infection of the lymphoid tissue at the back of the throat, most commonly affects children from the pre-school ages to the teenage years. Symptoms include sore throat, painful swallowing, fever, tender neck lymph nodes, and malaise. In some cases, the episodes resolve with antibiotic treatment. In other cases, there are chronic, but less severe symptoms present for a prolonged period of time. Children may begin to miss more and more school. When infections become recurrent or chronic, removal of the tonsils may be required. An early evaluation by an ear, nose, and throat surgeon can help guide treatment.

Sleep disordered breathing can also have a detrimental effect on school performance. Children that snore throughout the night, have restless sleep, occasionally have pauses in their breathing during sleep, or have persistent bed wetting might be suffering from sleep disordered breathing. Enlarged tonsils and/or adenoids (tonsil-like tissue in the back of the nose) might be causing poor sleep due to obstruction in the airway. This can lead to difficulty concentrating, daytime sleepiness, and paradoxically, daytime hyperactivity in some patients. A comprehensive history and physical exam by an otolaryngologist can often lead to a diagnosis and treatment plan.

At the first sign of any ear, nose, or throat concerns, evaluation by an otolaryngologist can help diagnose and treat conditions quickly and get our children back to focusing on school and spending time with family and friends.