Ear Infection Vs Common Cold
Ear infection in infants and toddlers is the second most common disorder after the common cold. An ear infection may sometimes miss the diagnosis because of the similarity of its symptoms with a common cold and flu.
It is also interesting to note that while both the conditions are different, ear infections generally start with a cold accompanying a persistent cough.
Infants and children are more prone to ear infections because of the poorly developed immune system and relatively shorter eustachian tube.
Although it is difficult to differentiate between the ear infection and common cold, certain signs and symptoms are exclusive to ear infections. Knowing these signs can help in identifying ear infection.
Can Baby Ear Infections Be Prevented
Ear infections are very common. In most cases, theres not much parents can do to prevent themand you shouldnt feel guilty if it happens to your baby! However, there are a few things you can do to reduce the likelihood that your baby will come down with an ear infection:
- Breastfeedingyou dont have to breastfeed full-time to reap benefits
- Reducing your babys exposure to secondhand smoke
- Practicing good hygiene such as frequent hand washing to reduce the chances of your baby picking up a viral infection that may lead to an ear infection
- Keeping up with your babys vaccines and getting an annual flu shot
What Happens If My Child Keeps Getting Ear Infections
To keep a middle ear infection from coming back, it helps to limit some of the factors that might put your child at risk, such as not being around people who smoke and not going to bed with a bottle. In spite of these precautions, some children may continue to have middle ear infections, sometimes as many as five or six a year. Your doctor may want to wait for several months to see if things get better on their own but, if the infections keep coming back and antibiotics arent helping, many doctors will recommend a surgical procedure that places a small ventilation tube in the eardrum to improve air flow and prevent fluid backup in the middle ear. The most commonly used tubes stay in place for six to nine months and require follow-up visits until they fall out.
If placement of the tubes still doesnt prevent infections, a doctor may consider removing the adenoids to prevent infection from spreading to the eustachian tubes.
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Risk Factors For Baby Ear Infections
The majority of children will get at least one or two ear infections in their first few years of life . But some babies may be more at risk for ear infections than others. Here are some risk factors that may increase your babys susceptibility:
- If you have a family history of ear infections, your baby may be more likely to get them.
- Your baby is more likely to get an ear infection with the more colds and other viruses they pick up.
- Babies who have allergies are more likely to have ear infections because of the swelling and inflammation that allergies can cause.
- Babies with chronic illnesses are more likely to experience ear infections, especially if they have respiratory diseases such as cystic fibrosis and asthma.
- Being exposed to secondhand smoke can increase your babys risk for ear infections.
- Babies who are bottle-fed are more likely to experience ear infections than breastfed babies however, you can minimize the risk by bottle feeding your baby in an upright position, so that milk doesnt pool in their ear passages.
- Making sure your baby doesnt fall asleep while drinking a bottle can also decrease their likelihood of getting an ear infection.
Medical Prevention For Chronic Or Frequent Ear Infections
If your child is having frequent ear infections, more aggressive prevention may be indicated. There are different opinions as to the definition of chronic ear infections. How many is too many?
- More aggressive doctors may choose to begin medical prevention if your child has more than three ear infections in six months or more than four in one year.
- Less aggressive doctors may allow your child to have more infections before recommending medical prevention We lean more in this direction.
- Other factors such as hearing loss and speech delay may warrant more aggressive treatment.
There are three forms of medical prevention:
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Signs And Symptoms Of An Ear Infection In Your Baby Or Toddler
So, how do you know if your baby or toddler has an ear infection? Itâs not easy to figure this out with babies , but there are some signs you can look for. Hereâs how to tell if your baby or toddler has an ear infection:
You may see your baby or younger child pulling at their ear. An older child may tell you their ear hurts
Crying, especially for babies during a feeding, because the sucking and swallowing may cause a change in pressure in the middle ear
Fever, typically between 100.4 to 104 degrees Fahrenheit
Your toddler may appear to be off-balance when walking since an ear infection affects balance due to fluid in the middle ear
Drainage from the ear that’s either pus or a blood-tinged yellow fluid. This may indicate your childâs eardrum has developed a small hole due to the infection this eventually heals by itself
Not hearing well due to the fluids behind the eardrum, making the transmission of sound difficult. You may notice this if your child is not responsive to softer sounds, or if a child-care provider tells you that your child seems to be inattentive in day care or school. If your child still has hearing issues after the ear infection has been treated or passed, consult their healthcare provider, who may recommend seeing an ear, nose, and throat specialist .
Why Are Children More Likely Than Adults To Get Ear Infections
There are several reasons why children are more likely than adults to get ear infections.
Eustachian tubes are smaller and more level in children than they are in adults. This makes it difficult for fluid to drain out of the ear, even under normal conditions. If the eustachian tubes are swollen or blocked with mucus due to a cold or other respiratory illness, fluid may not be able to drain.
A childs immune system isnt as effective as an adults because its still developing. This makes it harder for children to fight infections.
As part of the immune system, the adenoids respond to bacteria passing through the nose and mouth. Sometimes bacteria get trapped in the adenoids, causing a chronic infection that can then pass on to the eustachian tubes and the middle ear.
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Who Is Most Likely To Get An Ear Infection
Middle ear infection is the most common childhood illness . Ear infections occur most often in children who are between age 3 months and 3 years, and are common until age 8. Some 25% of all children will have repeated ear infections.
Adults can get ear infections too, but they dont happen nearly as often as they do in children.
Risk factors for ear infections include:
- Age: Infants and young children are at greater risk for ear infections.
- Family history: The tendency to get ear infections can run in the family.
- Colds: Having colds often increases the chances of getting an ear infection.
- Allergies: Allergies cause inflammation of the nasal passages and upper respiratory tract, which can enlarge the adenoids. Enlarged adenoids can block the eustachian tube, preventing ear fluids from draining. This leads to fluid buildup in the middle ear, causing pressure, pain and possible infection.
- Chronic illnesses: People with chronic illnesses are more likely to develop ear infections, especially patients with immune deficiency and chronic respiratory disease, such as cystic fibrosis and asthma.
- Ethnicity: Native Americans and Hispanic children have more ear infections than other ethnic groups.
What Are The Symptoms Of Otitis Media
Symptoms of ear infection include:
- Ear pain: This symptom is obvious in older children and adults. In infants too young to speak, look for signs of pain like rubbing or tugging ears, crying more than usual, trouble sleeping, acting fussy/irritable.
- Loss of appetite: This may be most noticeable in young children, especially during bottle feedings. Pressure in the middle ear changes as the child swallows, causing more pain and less desire to eat.
- Irritability: Any kind of continuing pain may cause irritability.
- Poor sleep: Pain may be worse when the child is lying down because the pressure in the ear may worsen.
- Fever: Ear infections can cause temperatures from 100° F up to 104° F. Some 50% of children will have a fever with their ear infection.
- Drainage from the ear: Yellow, brown, or white fluid that is not earwax may seep from the ear. This may mean that the eardrum has ruptured .
- Trouble hearing: Bones of the middle ear connect to the nerves that send electrical signals to the brain. Fluid behind the eardrums slows down movement of these electrical signals through the inner ear bones.
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Prevention Of Middle Ear Infection
Many children who get recurrent ear infections have grommets put into their eardrums to prevent infection. Grommets are special ventilating tubes that stop fluid from building up behind the eardrum and help preserve hearing. If your child needs grommets, hell see an ear, nose and throat specialist.
Avoid smoking. Children who are exposed to second-hand smoke are more likely to develop a range of illnesses, including middle ear infections.
When To Take Your Child To The Doctor For An Ear Infection
If your child has an ear infection, parents should call their childs doctor or pediatrician if:
- Symptoms persist for more than 24 hours
- Infant is 6 months old or younger
- Ear pain is acute or severe
- Infant or toddler cant sleep or is irritable after having a cold or other respiratory infection
- There is a discharge of fluid, pus or blood from the ear
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Does My Baby Have An Ear Infection
Take this quick quiz to find out just how much you know about ear infections.
Q. Are all children at risk for ear infections?
A. Ear infections are common in kids, especially babies between ages 6 and 18 months. One reason may be simple anatomy. The tube that drains fluid from inside each ear is much shorter in children than in adults.
In children, ear infections often follow a cold virus. One study in Pediatrics found that 30 percent of upper respiratory infections in kids younger than age 3 led to an ear infection. Other factors, such as being around smokers, can raise the risk for ear infection.
Q. How do I know if my baby has an ear infection?
A. Young ones may cry and tug at their ears. Theyll seem irritable and wont feel like eating or sleeping. They also may have a fever.
Q. Does my little one need antibiotics?
A. It depends on your childs age. Most ear infections in older babies and kids go away after a week or two without antibiotics. Taking these medicines when they arent needed can make it harder for your child to fight off future infections.
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends antibiotics for babies younger than 6 months with ear infections. If your child is between 6 and 24 months and the ear infection isnt serious, antibiotics may offer little benefit. After age 2, an antibiotic is recommended only for a severe ear infection.
Online Medical Reviewer: Desrosiers, Florence MD
Date Last Reviewed: 4/2/2010
Can Ear Infections Be Prevented
Currently, the best way to prevent ear infections is to reduce the risk factors associated with them. Here are some things you might want to do to lower your childs risk for ear infections.
- Vaccinate your child against the flu. Make sure your child gets the influenza, or flu, vaccine every year.
- It is recommended that you vaccinate your child with the 13-valent pneumococcal conjugate vaccine . The PCV13 protects against more types of infection-causing bacteria than the previous vaccine, the PCV7. If your child already has begun PCV7 vaccination, consult your physician about how to transition to PCV13. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that children under age 2 be vaccinated, starting at 2 months of age. Studies have shown that vaccinated children get far fewer ear infections than children who arent vaccinated. The vaccine is strongly recommended for children in daycare.
- Wash hands frequently. Washing hands prevents the spread of germs and can help keep your child from catching a cold or the flu.
- Avoid exposing your baby to cigarette smoke. Studies have shown that babies who are around smokers have more ear infections.
- Never put your baby down for a nap, or for the night, with a bottle.
- Dont allow sick children to spend time together. As much as possible, limit your childs exposure to other children when your child or your childs playmates are sick.
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Treatment For A Baby Or Toddlers Ear Infection
If you suspect your baby or toddler has an ear infection, youâll want to contact their healthcare provider. Before or after the appointment, you may try the following home treatment strategies:
If they have a high fever, help keep them comfortable by
dressing them in light clothing
keeping the homeâs temperature cool
giving them more fluids .
For fever and pain, after checking with the provider, you may give your child an age-appropriate dose of acetaminophen or ibuprofen
For an older child, with the provider’s approval, place a warm compress or heating pad over your childâs ear to help manage the pain
Use pain-relieving eardrops to help ease your childâs pain, but check with the healthcare provider first.
At the appointment, the healthcare provider will check your child’s ears for fluid in the middle ear space behind the eardrum. The provider may use various instruments to check for their sensitivity level and to see how the eardrum moves.
In some cases what you may have thought was an ear infection could simply be earache caused by your babyâs teething, a foreign object lodged in your toddlerâs ear canal, or a buildup of earwax. The provider will rule these out during the examination.
How Do You Prevent Bacterial Infection In Babies
Most bacterial infections are contagious. While not all bacterial infections can be prevented, taking some precautions may lower the risk of contracting the infection .
- Maintain good hygiene around the baby. Wash their hands after returning from outdoors. If you or some family member has a cold or other infection, then wash hands before holding the baby and their belongings. It is good to wear a mask while handling the baby to prevent the transmission of bacteria through cough or sneezes.
- Always dispose of soiled diapers into a dustbin or diaper pail to prevent bacteria from transferring to the surroundings.
- Promptly clean any open wounds with baby-safe disinfectant and see the doctor for the further dressing of the wound and medication.
- Vaccinate your child against common childhood diseases. The American Academy of Family Physicians recommends immunizing all babies unless contraindicated. Some types of pneumonia can be prevented with vaccines .
- Prevent exposure to tobacco smoke. Exposure to second-hand smoke increases a babys risk of developing pneumonia.
- Only serve cooked food or sealed ready-to-eat infant food . Never feed the baby anything raw since it can expose the little one to bacteria. Store uncooked food away from cooked and ready-to-eat food meant for the baby .
- For the prevention of neonatal conjunctivitis, the state law requires most hospitals to administer antibiotic eye drops that contain erythromycin to the baby after birth .
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Treatment For Middle Ear Infection
Symptoms of middle ear infection usually improve by themselves within 24-48 hours, so antibiotics arent often needed.
You can give your child paracetamol in recommended doses to help with pain. Your GP might suggest some anaesthetic ear drops if your child has severe pain.
If your child still has pain and is unwell after 48 hours, is particularly unwell or is less than 12 months old, your GP might prescribe a short course of antibiotics, usually penicillin.
Most children improve after a few days of antibiotic treatment, but always make sure your child finishes the whole treatment, even if she seems better. Stopping too soon could make the infection come back. Often your GP will want to see your child again when your child has finished the treatment, to make sure the infection has cleared up.
Putting cotton wool in your childs ear or cleaning discharge with a cotton bud can damage the ear. It isnt recommended.
Recurrent ear infections Some children with recurrent ear infections or glue ear might need a long course of antibiotics.
Glue ear generally improves within three months. Your GP will need to monitor your child during this time to check that its getting better.