Ear infections affect most people at some point in their life, with children most susceptible. Five out of every six children experience an ear infection by age three. In fact, ear infections are the No. 1 reason parents bring their children to the doctor. Being able to determine when your child is fighting an ear infection is key to getting him or her treatment immediately.
There are few things worse than knowing your infant or child is in pain, especially when you don’t know what’s wrong. When a baby is feeling bad, he or she will likely demonstrate a change in mood and begin crying more than usual. Unfortunately, this can indicate a number of problems, including an ear infection. To determine if your child is suffering from an ear infection, there are a few telltale signs to look out for.
Symptoms Of An Ear Infection In Infants
The symptoms of an ear infection can be hard to diagnose, especially with a younger child. To make things even more difficult, symptoms can vary depending on the type of ear infection your child is experiencing. However, fever, fluid drainage, difficulty hearing, trouble sleeping and pulling at the ear are all common symptoms of an ear infection.
- Your baby is pulling, grabbing or tugging at his or her ears
- Your baby is unable to swallow or chew or they pull away from the bottle after only a few sips
- You notice yellow or whitish fluid draining from the ear
- You detect an unpleasant smell coming from your child’s ear
- Your child has difficulty sleeping or lying down
Causes Of Ear Infections
When fluid builds up in the area behind your baby’s eardrum and becomes infected, it can result in an ear infection. Typically, fluid in this area leaves quickly via the eustachian tube; however, if that tube is blocked, it can cause the fluid to get trapped.
Because warm, wet places are often a breeding ground for germs, the fluid can easily get infected. Since babies have shorter eustachian tubes, they are more likely to develop an infection than adults. As your child’s body works to fight off the infection, he or she may develop a fever.
If your child has suffered from a sore throat, cold or respiratory infection, they run the risk of developing an ear infection. In the case of a bacterial upper respiratory infection, the bacteria can spread to the ear, while a viral respiratory infection can cause bacteria to move into the ear as a secondary infection, causing fluid buildup in the eardrum.
When It Could Be Something Else
Although your child may appear to have an ear infection with some of the symptoms above, it is unlikely if he or she has no cold symptoms. If your child is pulling at his or her ears, there is a chance they are simply teething or just like playing with their ears. In fact, babies under the age of one year cannot tell localize their ear pain, so it is impossible for them to identify where the pain is coming from.
How To Prevent Ear Infections
Whether your child suffers from chronic ear infections or you simply want to take measures to prevent him or her getting an infection for the first time, below are some great ways to prevent (or at least lessen the severity) ear infections.
- Boost your child’s immune system: It’s no surprise that feeding your child more fruits and vegetables will help him or her stave off infections. For tips on how to sneak veggies into your child’s food, check out this article.
- Avoid cigarette smoke: Your baby’s nasal passage can be irritated by smoke leading to Eustachian tube dysfunction.
- Keep your child’s nose clear: Any time your child gets a runny nose it’s important to keep the nose clear with saline nose drops, suctioning or even by using steam. This will help prevent viruses and bacteria from attaching in your child’s nose.
- Wash hands frequently: This should go without saying. Washing your hands regularly will prevent germs from spreading to your child, keeping him or her at a lowered risk of catching a cold. Fewer colds also reduces the risk of ear infections.
- Vaccinate your child: It’s important that you vaccinate your child against the flu each year. You should also have your child get the 13-valent pneumococcal vaccine that protects against additional types of bacterial infection.
When To Seek Medical Care for Ear Infections
As soon as you think your child may have an ear infection, you should call a doctor. A doctor will use an instrument called an otoscope to look into your baby’s ear. If the doctor believes it’s an infection, he or she may use another instrument, a pneumatic otoscope, to further assess whether the ear is actually infected.
In most cases, a doctor will prescribe an antibiotic that will be taken for about a week. If your child’s pain is overwhelming, a doctor may also suggest over-the-counter pain medication. If an antibiotic is prescribed, be sure your child takes the medication for the full time recommended to ensure the infection is fully treated.
Once your child has been diagnosed with an ear infection, a doctor will likely prescribe a ten-day treatment that includes antibiotics. One of the most common antibiotics given for ear infections is amoxicillin (sometimes referred to as “the pink stuff”). Your child’s doctor may also prescribe anesthetic eardrops, which numb the eardrum to keep pain at bat for up to two hours.
If you haven’t seen a doctor yet, but you are certain your child is suffering from an ear infection, pain medications such as acetaminophen and ibuprofen can help to immediately relief pain. (It’s important you reference the dosage guide on the medication.)
If your child does not begin improving within 48-72 hours of antibiotic use, you should return to the doctor for a stronger antibiotic.
If you believe your child is suffering from an ear infection, Medical City Children’s Urgent Care has pediatricians that are board certified so you can access convenient, expert care you need right when you need it. Even open after hours or on the weekend.
Disclaimer: Patients’ health can vary. Always consult with a medical professional before taking medication, making health-related decisions or deciding if medical advice is right for you or your child.