Causes Of Ear Infection In Babies
Ear infections with babies and small children are actually a rather common event. They seem to come out of nowhere but can easily be treated. The question is, what are baby ear infection causes? Fortunately, the common causes of ear infections in babies arent anything exotic. Some of them even come down to their ears are just small.
The Ear Tube Controversy
While ear tubes do have their place in treating recurrent ear infections, there does exist some controversy over their use. The advantages are listed above, but some common concerns about tubes are:
- Some doctors may be too quick to recommend ear tubes before exhausting all other preventative measures or before allowing enough time to allow the ears to clear up without surgery.
- As with any surgery, there are risks to general anesthesia.
- The tubes often leave a little scar covering approximately one-sixth of the eardrum. This scar is often permanent. There does not seem to be any long-term consequence of this scarring, but were not completely sure. Please note that recurrent ear infections with or without eardrum rupture can also lead to scarring.
- Please note that ear tubes dont always prevent ear infections. Some children will still get as many infections even with the tubes in, but the fluid drains out right away.
- Many children benefit from ear tubes, parents declaring their child is a new person The ear infections are gone, hearing has improved, no more sleepless nights with a crying child, no more endless courses of antibiotics.
- A general indication for tubes are chronic ear fluid for more than four to six months, more than three ear infections in six months, or more than five in one year. You and your doctor should decide together when it is the right time for ear tubes for your child.
What To Do If Your Baby Has Repeated Ear Infections
It can be very stressful if your baby has repeated ear infections, though this is also common in childhood. If the infections are very frequent or if they are causing temporary hearing loss for your baby, your doctor may want to intervene.
The most common intervention for repeated ear infection are small tubes that are placed in your babys eardrum. These tubes are left in for six to nine months and decrease the fluid buildup as well as improve air flow quality. Frequent check ins with your doctor are necessary if your baby has ear tubes.
If tubes dont help solve the problem, sometimes doctors will suggest surgically removing your babys adenoids, especially if they are swollen, enlarged, and seem to be contributing to your babys ear infections.
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Signs Of An Ear Infection
Ear infections are common in babies, and it is helpful to know the classic signs to watch out for:
- Crying and irritability: Your babys ear is most likely painful, so expect crying and irritability. You may notice more crying when your baby lies down. This is because the ear pressure increases with lying down, leading to an increase in pain and discomfort during an ear infection.
- Tugging at the ear: Because your baby is too young to tell you that their ear hurts, look for signs such as tugging on the affected ear.
- Difficulty feeding: The act of sucking and swallowing causes changes in ear pressure and is usually uncomfortable during an ear infection. You may notice that your baby is hungry and seems eager to eat, but stops right away.
- Trouble sleeping: Expect a restless night or two when your baby has an ear infection. Because lying down is painful, your little one will probably wake throughout the night.
- Ear drainage: Its possible for your baby to develop ear drainage with an ear infection. The drainage will appear different than normal ear wax, which is orange-yellow or reddish-brown. Infected drainage may appear white, green, yellow, or blood-tinged and have a foul odor.
- Fever: Its estimated that about 50% of babies and children will develop a fever with an ear infection.
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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What Causes A Middle Ear Infection
A small tube connects your ear to your throat. These two tubes are called eustachian tubes . A cold can cause this tube to swell. When the tube swells enough to become blocked, it can trap fluid inside your ear. This makes it a perfect place for germs to grow and cause an infection.
Ear infections happen mostly to young children, because their tubes are smaller and get blocked more easily.
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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Could Your Child Have An Ear Infection
Learn how to spot one and what to do next.
“An ear infection happens when you get infected fluid or pus behind the eardrum,” says Jennifer Shu, MD, FAAP. She is a pediatrician in Atlanta and editor of American Academy of Pediatrics Baby & Child Health. The most common cause? Colds. When secretions get trapped in the middle ear, viruses or bacteria can cause an infection and result in a bulging or reddened eardrum.
Children under 3 are most susceptible to ear infections, Shu says. “They don’t have strong immune systems. They haven’t been exposed to many of these germs before, so it takes them a little longer to fight them off.” Young kids also have more horizontal Eustachian tubes , allowing fluid to collect instead of drain.
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, it’s just fussiness, crying more than usual, being clingy,” Shu says.
“We try not to treat if it’s a very mild infection or if they’re not complaining that much,” Shu says. According to the AAP, parents may choose to wait 48 to 72 hours and then start their child on antibiotics if there’s no improvement.
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:
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Creating Conditions To Treat An Ear Infection
One thing many doctors recommend is to not feed the child allergenic and lactose-based foods during the illness.
Drying your babys ears well at bath time is very important for preventing ear infections. Its also important to dry them once the infection has started so as not to irritate them.
But in addition to water, extremely dry environments can create more pain and irritation in the affected area.
Some experts recommend using hot water bottles on the affected ear to alleviate the pain.
What Research Is Being Done On Middle Ear Infections
Researchers sponsored by the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders are exploring many areas to improve the prevention, diagnosis, and treatment of middle ear infections. For example, finding better ways to predict which children are at higher risk of developing an ear infection could lead to successful prevention tactics.
Another area that needs exploration is why some children have more ear infections than others. For example, Native American and Hispanic children have more infections than do children in other ethnic groups. What kinds of preventive measures could be taken to lower the risks?
Doctors also are beginning to learn more about what happens in the ears of children who have recurring ear infections. They have identified colonies of antibiotic-resistant bacteria, called biofilms, that are present in the middle ears of most children with chronic ear infections. Understanding how to attack and kill these biofilms would be one way to successfully treat chronic ear infections and avoid surgery.
Understanding the impact that ear infections have on a childs speech and language development is another important area of study. Creating more accurate methods to diagnose middle ear infections would help doctors prescribe more targeted treatments. Researchers also are evaluating drugs currently being used to treat ear infections, and developing new, more effective and easier ways to administer medicines.
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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.
How Does A Doctor Diagnose A Middle Ear Infection
The first thing a doctor will do is ask you about your childs health. Has your child had a head cold or sore throat recently? Is he having trouble sleeping? Is she pulling at her ears? If an ear infection seems likely, the simplest way for a doctor to tell is to use a lighted instrument, called an otoscope, to look at the eardrum. A red, bulging eardrum indicates an infection.
A doctor also may use a pneumatic otoscope, which blows a puff of air into the ear canal, to check for fluid behind the eardrum. A normal eardrum will move back and forth more easily than an eardrum with fluid behind it.
Tympanometry, which uses sound tones and air pressure, is a diagnostic test a doctor might use if the diagnosis still isnt clear. A tympanometer is a small, soft plug that contains a tiny microphone and speaker as well as a device that varies air pressure in the ear. It measures how flexible the eardrum is at different pressures.
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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.
Home Remedies For Your Babys Ear Infection
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What is an ear infection?
If your baby is fussy, cries more than usual, and tugs at their ear, they may have an ear infection. Five out of six children will have an ear infection before their 3rd birthday, according to the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders.
An ear infection, or otitis media, is a painful inflammation of the middle ear. Most middle ear infections occur between the ear drum and the eustachian tube, which connects the ears, nose, and throat.
Ear infections often follow a cold. Bacteria or viruses are usually the cause. The infection causes inflammation and swelling of the eustachian tube. The tube narrows and fluid builds behind the eardrum, causing pressure and pain. Children have shorter and narrower eustachian tubes than adults. Also, their tubes are more horizontal, so its easier for them to get blocked.
Approximately 5 to 10 percent of children with an ear infection will experience a ruptured eardrum, according to the Childrens National Health System. The eardrum usually heals within one to two weeks, and rarely causes permanent damage to the childs hearing.
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How Do Ear Infections In Children Occur
Heres an anatomy lesson
The ear is divided into three parts: the outer ear canal, the middle ear space where infections occur, and the inner ear where the nerves and balance center are. A thin, membranous eardrum divides the outer and middle ear. The middle ear space contains the small bones that conduct the vibrations of the eardrum to the brain and is also connected to the back of the nose via the Eustachian tube.
Immature Eustachian tube
In infants and young children, this tube is much shorter and is angled. It is therefore much easier for bacteria to migrate from the nose and throat up into the middle ear space. As the child grows, this tube becomes more vertical, so germs have to travel upward to reach the middle ear. This is one-reason children outgrow ear infections.
When your child has a cold, the nasal passages get swollen and mucus collects in the back of the nose. This environment is a breeding ground for the bacteria that normally live in the nose and throat to begin to overgrow. Mucus is also secreted within the middle ear space just as it is in the sinuses.
Germs migrate up through the Eustachian tube and into the middle ear space where they multiply within the mucus that is stuck there. Pus begins to form and soon the middle ear space is filled with bacteria, pus, and thick mucus.
What Are The Possible Complications From An Ear Infection
It is common for some fluid to remain behind the eardrum after the infection clears. This may cause dulled hearing for a while. This usually clears within a week or so and hearing then returns to normal. Sometimes the mucus does not clear properly and ‘glue ear’ may develop. Hearing may then remain dulled. Repeated ear infections can lead to glue ear. See a doctor if dulled hearing persists after an ear infection has gone, or if you suspect your child is having difficulty hearing.
If the eardrum bursts then it usually heals over within a few weeks once the infection clears. In some cases the perforation remains long-term and may need treatment to fix it.
If a child is normally healthy then the risk of other serious complications developing from an ear infection is very small. Rarely, a serious infection of the bone behind the ear develops from an ear infection. This is called mastoiditis. Very rarely, the infection spreads deeper into the inner ear, brain or other nearby tissues. This can cause various symptoms that can affect the brain and nearby nerves, including abscess and meningitis. You should always consult a doctor if a child with earache:
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Complications And Risk Factors Of Ear Infection In Babies
While an ear infection can have consequences for an adult, especially if its left untreated, for children and babies, the complications and risk factors associated with ear infections are much graver. The fluid build up behind the ear can lead to temporary hearing loss. If left untreated, the damage can cause permanent issues with the childs hearing, which in turn, can cause issues with their speech. Repeated ear infections can cause cholesteatoma to form behind the eardrum that will require surgery.
While very rare, ear infections can also begin to affect the tissue around the spine and brain . As you can see, the complications from ear infections can be pretty nasty, especially if you dont get them treated. Luckily, treatment is pretty easy these days.
Understanding Different Types Of Ear Infections In Toddlers
Middle ear infections, the most common infection among children, usually develop when mucus builds up in the middle ear because of an illness like the common cold. As a result, the Eustachian tube, the tube which connects the middle ear to the back of your nose, becomes inflamed or blocked, preventing prevents mucus from draining properly and causing infection to spread to the middle ear. Sometimes, the Eustachian tube can also be blocked when soft tissue behind the throat, known as adenoids, becomes enlarged.2
Outer ear infections are usually caused by bacteria, though fungal infections, allergies, or irritation may also be responsible. They are more likely if the child constantly gets water in the ears or injures the skin in the ears. This creates an environment where germs can thrive.3
Inner ear infections generally develop as a result of a viral infection like the flu or cold spreading from the nose, chest, or mouth to the inner ear. Other viral infections like measles or mumps can also cause labyrinthitis. Also, if you have a middle ear infection or meningitis, bacteria can spread to the inner ear. 4
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