How To Tell If Your Child Has An Ear Infection When To Go To The Doctor
A local pediatrician explains what to look for when you think your child has an ear infection, why a doctor may not prescribe antibiotics and when ear tubes might be necessary.
Many of us remember getting ear infections as a child and the intense pain and bubble-gum flavored medicine that went with them. Ear infections are common in children and many kids suffer at least one. They become less common after childhood because the anatomy of the ear changes.
Heres a rundown of what patients and parents need to know about middle ear infections:
When Should I Call The Doctor
Very rarely, ear infections that don’t go away or severe repeated middle ear infections can lead to complications. So kids with an earache or a sense of fullness in the ear, especially when combined with fever, should be seen by their doctors if they aren’t getting better after a couple of days.
Treatments And Tips For Ear Infections
To help your little one feel better and recover quickly from ear infections there are a few things you can do. Whether they are teething or not, these are the best ways to soothe an earache.
Make sure that your child gets lots of rest and sleep, it will be easier for them to fight an infection when they aren’t overtired, and keep giving fluid regularly to your child if they are suffering from an ear infection. This should help improve itchy ears and eardrum pain in the middle ear.
If your baby is over three months of age, you might be able to use baby Paracetamol or Ibuprofen Suspension to help ease the pain and reduce fever in your little one. Make sure to check the packet carefully and ask your doctor or pharmacist how much to give your child.
In some cases, a doctor might prescribe antibiotics for ear infection treatment. Antibiotics will help children heal fluid in the ear caused by the bacteria, and reduce their fever, but it is important to speak to a doctor to know what they recommend. Often with viral ear infections, the antibiotics won’t actually help your child feel less ear pain, so the doctor might not recommend them for all children.
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Can Ear Tubes Help
If your child experiences frequent or chronic ear infections, your pediatrician may discuss ear tubes with you. Ear tubes are tiny tubes that are surgically placed into your childs eardrums to drain fluid and prevent blockages. Ear tubes can provide immediate relief for little ones who regularly experience painful ear infections. Talk with your pediatrician and a pediatric ear, nose, and throat doctor to see whether ear tubes are right for your child.
Are Antibiotics Absolutely Necessary To Treat Ear Infections
No, they are not absolutely necessary, but they are helpful for several reasons:
- Antibiotics will help your child feel better faster by eliminating the bacteria, which in turn reduces the fever and ear pain more quickly. Children generally feel better after one or two days of antibiotics.
- Allowing an ear infection to heal on its own usually subjects a child to four to seven days of fever and ear pain.
- Antibiotics help prevent the very rare, but possible, complications of an ear infection spreading into the brain or bone surrounding the ear.
- New research is suggesting that 80 percent of uncomplicated ear infections will resolve within 4 to 7 days without antibiotics. Parents who choose not to use antibiotics can treat the pain and fever with Auralgan anesthetic ear drops and ibuprofen or acetaminophen, or can try using Xlear® nasal spray as mentioned above.
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Your Child Is Unlikely To Have An Ear Infection If:
1. There are no cold symptoms
If your child has some of the above symptoms but does not have a cold, an ear infection is less likely, unless your child has had an ear infection in the past without a cold.
2. They are pulling at the ears
Or batting the ears in infants less than 1 year of age. Infants less than 1-year-old are unable to precisely localize their ear pain. This means that they cannot tell if the pain is coming from the ear or structures near the ear. Infants can pull on or bat at their ears for two other common reasons:
- Teething A baby thinks the pain from sore gums is coming from the ears
- Because they like playing with their ears Infants are fascinated with these strange appendages that are sticking out of the side of their head. They love to explore them, play with them, and especially stick their fingers into that strange hole in the middle.
3. No complaints of ear pain
No complaints from a child who is old enough to tell you, usually by age 2 or 3.
How Long Will It Take My Child To Get Better
Your child should start feeling better within a few days after visiting the doctor. If its been several days and your child still seems sick, call your doctor. Your child might need a different antibiotic. Once the infection clears, fluid may still remain in the middle ear but usually disappears within three to six weeks.
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How Do You Treat Your Babys Ear Infection
Treatment for your babys ear infection will depend on their age and how severe the infection is. Your pediatrician may recommend over-the-counter pain medication as needed and keeping an eye on it. If your child has a fever or the ear infection is not improving, your pediatrician will most likely prescribe oral antibiotic liquid to clear up the infection.
Ear Infection Symptoms In Babies And Toddlers
From fever to drainage, learn the signs of an ear infection in toddlers and infants so you can nip this common childhood ailment in the bud.
Recently, I noticed my 8-month-old son tugging on his right ear. That, combined with his unusual crankiness, got my attention. Was he teething? Just discovering his ear? Or could he be signaling that he was suffering from an ear infection? He was just getting over a cold, so I decided to call the pediatrician’s office. The nurse suggested bringing him in for a quick peek at his ears.
The verdict: no ear infection! While I was relieved, the incident did get me thinking. Did I have to drag him in every time he pulled at his ear? That seemed a little extreme. But what if I was too laid back and missed a real ear infection? I decided it was time to learn a little bit more about this common childhood ailment.
“Next to the common cold, ear infections are the most common disorder in children,” says Margaretha Casselbrant, MD, PhD, chief of the division of pediatric otolaryngology at Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh. But ear infections are not always easy for a parent to diagnose because the symptoms can be vague and mimic those of a regular cold or flu. In fact, ear infections often start as a cold with a cough and a runny nose.
While it’s certainly tricky, there are still signs that are specific to ear infections. Here’s how to tell if it’s an ear infection, mom.
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Helping Your Child At Home
- Keep your child home while they are unwell or have a fever.
- Pain relief is important – your doctor or pharmacist can advise you on the right dose of pain relief medicine for your child.
- Let your child rest and give them lots of cuddles.
- Talk to your doctor about a follow-up check, to make sure your childs ear fluid has cleared.
Accurate and reliable information about children’s health.
How Can I Tell If My Child Has An Ear Infection
Most ear infections happen to children before theyve learned how to talk. If your child isnt old enough to say My ear hurts, here are a few things to look for:
- Tugging or pulling at the ear
- Fussiness and crying
- Fluid draining from the ear
- Clumsiness or problems with balance
- Trouble hearing or responding to quiet sounds
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How To Tell If Your Child Has A Middle Ear Infection
Children are more likely than adults to get ear infections. If your child says their ear hurts, you may wonder: Could it be an ear infection? Middle ear infection is the most common type of ear infection. While some symptoms are easy for parents to spot, others may be more difficult to identify, especially in infants and toddlers. What are the symptoms of a middle ear infection, and what should you do if you suspect your child has one?
Why Children Are More Prone To Ear Infections
Childrens ear canals and ear anatomy are narrow, shorter and more horizontal than adults. This can mean that fluid can build up in their ear canal and also subsequently lead to more inflammation , developing into an ear infection. Also, children are just more likely to get viruses you know this if your child goes to daycare or is school age! They are more prone to picking up these germs and viruses which can subsequently lead to an ear infection. Lastly, their immune systems are still developing.
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Teething Vs Ear Infection
With five kids, I know what its like to worry about whether a cranky baby is just teething or if its something to be concerned about. Nobody wants to take unnecessary trips to the doctor, especially with a cranky baby in tow, but you dont want to risk your childs health either.
To help you make the right decision, well provide a quick rundown of the signs of teething vs. sickness, explain what you can do in each case, and give you the answers to the question we hear most often.
Who Are At Risk
The following toddler groups can have a higher susceptibility to develop middle ear infection:
- Prematurely born: Paediatric experts note that infants born prematurely have a higher risk of developing middle ear infections. The high risk is attributed to the slow development of the immune system and eustachian tube not fully developed .
- Exposure to smoke and pollution: Chronic exposure to tobacco smoke and vehicular effluents makes the toddler more susceptible to ear infections.
- Toddlers at daycare: Toddlers who spend a bulk of their time at daycare centers have a higher risk of contracting colds and throat infections, due to droplet infections which can lead to ear infections.
It is vital to spot the symptoms of ear infection in toddlers to initiate quick treatment and mitigate discomfort.
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Can Toddler Have Ear Infection Without Fever
Fever may come with an ear infection, but not always, Shu says. Parents might spot other symptoms, such as earaches, ear drainage, trouble hearing or sleeping, ear tugging, poor appetite, vomiting, and diarrhea. But for many children, its just fussiness, crying more than usual, being clingy, Shu says.
Identifying And Treating Ear Infections In Children
Your child has a bothersome cold for a week. Their nasal discharge turns a little green and their cough starts to keep you all up at night. Then one night they are up every hour extremely fussy with a fever. You take them to the doctor the next morning, almost certain they have another ear infection.Ear infections in children are one of the most worrisome illnesses for both parents and children to go through, especially if they are frequent. They also are the most common reason for antibiotic prescriptions. Heres a guide to help you understand why ear infections occur, how to best treat them, and most importantly, how you can prevent them from happening too often.
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How To Prevent Ear Infections In Toddlers
Use these measures to prevent ear infections in toddlers :
- Protect the toddler against pathogens: Ear infection is often the result of an infection that begins in the sinonasal cavity or the throat. These infections result from poor protection against pathogens. When you shield your toddler against pathogens that cause diseases such as cold, sore throat, etc., you also protect him from ear infections. In infants, regularly put normal saline drops in the nose. It all begins with good hygiene. For instance, teach the toddler to wash hands after playing, cover mouth and nose if someone sneezes around them, and always wash hands if they pick at their nose. Gargling is very helpful. Also, keep the toddlers personal items clean to minimize the risk of contracting a pathogen that can cause an ear infection.
- Drink from a cup and not bottle: The American Academy of Pediatrics states that bottle-drinking should be discontinued during toddlerhood . Instead, you must encourage your toddler to have milk or formula from a sippy cup. In fact, pediatric experts recommend introduction of open cups right at the age of 12 months . Sleeping with milk or formula bottle has been widely linked to ear infections among toddlers .
- Immunize your toddler against pathogens that cause upper respiratory infections as they can also lead to ear infections. For instance, immunization against pneumonia and influenza pathogens has proven to prevent ear infections among toddlers .
What Are Other Causes Of Ear Pain
Other causes of ear pain include:
- A sore throat.
- Teeth coming in in a baby.
- An infection of the lining of the ear canal. This is also called swimmers ear.
- Pressure build up in the middle ear caused by allergies and colds.
Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 04/16/2020.
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Signs It’s An Ear Infection
Because infants and toddlers don’t yet have the language skills to let you know how they’re feeling, detecting an ear infection is especially hard.
Despite what you may think ear tugging is not a reliable sign, according to experts. So what should parents be on alert for?
“In general, a fever above 102 degrees is one of the hallmarks of an ear infection in a nonverbal child,” says Max M. April, MD, chair of the committee on pediatric otolaryngology for the American Academy of Otolaryngology – Head and Neck Surgery.
The following signs also may indicate your child is suffering from an ear infection:
Lets Look At The Anatomy Of The Ear
When we look at the ear were looking at the outside structures. When we use an otoscope, we can see the ear canal and the eardrum. If the ear canal or the outside of the ear is red this is commonly referred to as an outer ear infection . If we look inside the ear and we see that the eardrum is red and/or bulging, this is a sign of a middle ear infection or otitis media. These are commonly caused by congestion or inflammation in the middle ear. Viruses are one of the most common reasons we see ear infections.
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How Ear Infections Resolve
There are two components of ear infections that need to resolve:
- Infection the antibiotics usually take care of the bacteria, which in turn resolves the fever and pain within a few days.
- Middle ear fluid it takes much longer for this to resolve, anywhere from a few days up to 3 months! The fluid slowly drains out through the Eustachian tube down into the nose. Taking repeated courses of antibiotics does not speed up this process, since the fluid is usually no longer infected with bacteria. Chronic nasal congestion or allergies can block the Eustachian tube and therefore prevent the ears from draining. Your childs hearing may be muffled until the fluid drains out. This is not permanent. See below how to prevent ear infections with tips on how to improve ear drainage.
Remember, since the runny nose and cough are usually caused by a cold virus and not bacteria, it may be 3 14 days before these symptoms resolve.
Other Clues In Diagnosing Ear Infection
Ear infections in young children are also often associated with a viral upper respiratory infection, Dr. Koltai added. When kids get a cold or a respiratory virus, their eustachian tubes may become swollen or blocked with mucus, preventing fluid from draining from their ear, he said.
Kids who attend day care and those exposed to secondhand smoke are also more likely to get an ear infection, noted Koltai.
A 2010 study conducted by researchers from the Harvard School of Public Health found that, when the number of families instituting no-smoking rules at home nearly doubled between 1993 and 2006, the reduced exposure to secondhand smoke was associated with fewer ear infections in children.
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Why Do Kids Get Ear Infections
Kids get ear infections more than adults do for several reasons:
- Their shorter, more horizontal eustachian tubes let bacteria and viruses find their way into the middle ear more easily. The tubes are also narrower, so more likely to get blocked.
- Their adenoids, gland-like structures at the back of the throat, are larger and can interfere with the opening of the eustachian tubes.
Other things that can put kids at risk include secondhand smoke, bottle-feeding, and being around other kids in childcare. Ear infections are more common in boys than girls.
Ear infections are not contagious, but the colds that sometimes cause them can be. Infections are common during winter weather, when many people get upper respiratory tract infections or colds .