If you’re a parent, you’re probably aware that ear infection in babies and toddlers is widespread. In fact, according to the National Institutes of Health, five out of six children will experience an ear infection before their third birthday. But as a parent, it’s essential to know how to recognize the signs and symptoms of an ear infection so you can provide your child with the proper care and treatment.
What Causes An Ear Infection?
Ear infections are caused by inflammation in the middle ear, typically due to trapped bacteria, resulting in the most common type of ear infection known as otitis media. When a child experiences a sore throat, cold, or upper respiratory infection, their eustachian tubes, the channels connecting the middle ear to the throat, can be affected. This can lead to an infection as bacteria can spread to the middle ear, and fluid begins to build up behind the eardrum, causing it to become infected and swollen.
When it comes to ear infection, there are three main types, each with its own set of symptoms:
Acute Otitis Media (AOM): This is the most common type of ear infection, characterized by swelling in parts of the middle ear, and fluid trapped behind the eardrum. Symptoms include pain in the ear (an earache) and fever in children.
Otitis Media with Effusion (OME): OME may occur after an ear infection has resolved, but the fluid is still trapped behind the eardrum. Children with OME may not exhibit any symptoms, but a doctor can identify the fluid using a unique instrument.
Chronic Otitis Media with Effusion (COME): Fluid remains in the middle ear for an extended period, even in the absence of an infection. This can weaken the child’s immune system and affect their hearing abilities.
Ear Infection Symptoms in Children
One of the most common signs of an ear infection is pain in and around the ear. Young children may not always be able to communicate to their parents that they are experiencing pain, making it hard for parents to diagnose the issue. However, a few telltale signs suggest an ear infection may be the culprit.
First, if your child is frequently tugging or pulling at their ear, it may be a sign that something is bothering them. If your child seems more irritable than usual or is crying for unclear reasons, an ear infection could be a possible explanation.
Fever is another common sign of an ear infection, especially in younger children. Suppose you notice your child has a fever. In that case, it’s always a good idea to monitor their behavior carefully for other signs of an infection.
Other signs to watch out for include:
- Fluid draining out of the ear.
- Loss of balance.
- Difficulty hearing or responding to sounds.
In some cases, an ear infection may require immediate medical attention, such as when a child has a high fever, severe pain, or bloody or pus-like discharge from the ears. If you observe any of these symptoms, seeking medical care is essential. (Nationwidechildrens)
How Can You Prevent Ear Infection in Children?
Ear infections can be prevented by taking some precautions. Here’s what you can do to lower your child’s risk:
- Get your child vaccinated against the flu and pneumococcal conjugate (PCV13) vaccine, which protects against bacteria that can cause ear infections.
- Wash hands often to prevent the spread of germs.
- Avoid exposing your child to cigarette smoke.
- Don’t put your baby down to sleep with a bottle.
- Keep sick children away from others and limit exposure to others when your child or their playmates are not feeling well.
(Johns Hopkins Medicine)
What Medicines Can I Give My Child for Ear Pain?
To alleviate your child’s fever, pain, and fussiness, you can give them acetaminophen (Tylenol®) or ibuprofen (Motrin®). Depending on the severity of the ear infection, your child’s doctor may prescribe antibiotics for acute otitis media. Your child must complete the entire course of medication as prescribed. (Nationwidechildrens)
Ear infections are a common health issue that affects young children, and parents need to know how to identify the symptoms and take the necessary steps to address them. It’s essential to seek medical attention if you suspect your child has an ear infection, especially if the symptoms are severe or do not improve over time.
When to Visit the ER
Ear infection can be a symptom of a more serious illness. If your child has been sick for over three days, running a fever, has a chronic cough, or difficulty in breathing, this may signal illness such as RSV, bronchitis, pneumonia, COVID, or flu. If your child has these symptoms in addition to ear infection, it’s time to visit the ER for a proper diagnosis and treatment regimen. Our board-certified physicians will see you now and get your child on their way to feeling better. Our goal is to see you in 10 minutes or less. We have onsite labs and radiology should these tests be required as part of a diagnosis involving ear infection and complicating factors.
nationwidechildrens. “Ear Infections (Otitis Media).” Symptoms, Treatment and Prevention, www.nationwidechildrens.org/conditions/ear-infections-otitis-media.
Johns Hopkins Medicine. “Ear Infections in Babies and Toddlers.” Ear Infections in Babies and Toddlers | Johns Hopkins Medicine, 11 Oct. 2022, www.hopkinsmedicine.org/health/conditions-and-diseases/ear-infections-in-babies-and-toddlers.
National Institute of Deafness and Other Communication Disorders. “Ear Infections in Children.” National Institute of Deafness and Other Communication Disorders, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, www.nidcd.nih.gov/health/ear-infections-children.