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.
IDENTIFYING AN EAR INFECTION
There are few things worse than knowing your infant 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.
- 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
- Your child is suffering from a low grade fever
You should note that ear infections are almost always preceded by a cold. You may notice that your child’s clear runny nose becomes yellow or green as the infection begins to set in.
Because ear infections result in a pus or fluid buildup behind the eardrum, it is not unusual for an infection to result in a ruptured eardrum. If your child’s eardrum has ruptured, you may notice blood or pus draining from the ear. It’s important that you don’t panic. Most ruptured eardrums heal on its on within a few weeks and do not require treatment.
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.
WHAT CAUSES AN EAR INFECTION?
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.
WHEN TO SEEK MEDICAL CARE
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.
HOW AN EAR INFECTION IS 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 have yet to get your child to the doctor but are certain he or she is suffering from an ear infection, there are a few things you can do to help alleviate pain until you can seek medical care. Try putting several drops of warm olive oil, vegetable oil or garlic oil (make sure the oil isn’t too hot!) and applying a warm washcloth to the ear. Pain medications such as acetaminophen and ibuprofen are also great 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.
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.
If you believe your child is suffering from an ear infection, rest assured that Medical City Children’s Urgent Care has pediatricians that are board certified, offer convenient access to the expert care you need right when you need it and are 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.