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.
What Will Happen At The Doctors Office
If your doctor thinks your baby may have an ear infection, they will certainly examine your babys ear canal, but they will also likely look at other possible symptoms.
Heres what will happen during the visit:
- Your doctor will ask you what viral or infection symptoms your baby has had recently.
- Your doctor will ask you what symptoms your baby has been experiencing, and will check your babys vital signs.
- Your doctor will take your babys temperature.
- Your doctor will listen to your babys lungs for signs of respiratory distress.
- Your doctor will examine the inside of your babys ears.
Heres what an examination of your babys ear canals may entail:
- Your doctor will view your babys middle ear using an instrument called an otoscope. They will be looking for signs of redness and inflammation. Babies usually dont like this, but the procedure is not painful.
- If your doctor wants to check for fluid buildup in the ear, they will use a pneumatic otoscope. This will blow a small amount of air inside your babys ear. This is not harmful or painful, but again, your baby may not like it very much.
- If neither of these procedures offer your doctor a definite answer, they may use a tympanometer to examine your babys ear. This uses air pressures and sound tones to measure the pressure inside your babys ear.
Can An Ear Infection Be Prevented Or Avoided
Although an ear infection is not contagious, the bacteria or virus that caused it is often contagious. Its important to:
- Vaccinate your child with a pneumococcal conjugate vaccine to protect against several types of pneumococcal bacteria. This type of bacteria is the most common cause of ear infections. Get your childs vaccinations on time.
- Practice routine hand washing and avoid sharing food and drinks, especially if your child is exposed to large groups of kids in day care or school settings.
- Avoid second-hand smoke.
- Breastfeed your baby exclusively for the first 6 months and continue breastfeeding for at least 1 year. Place your baby at an angle while feeding.
Common allergy and cold medicines do not protect against ear infections.
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Infections Inside The Ear
Antibiotics are not usually offered because infections inside the ear often clear up on their own and antibiotics make little difference to symptoms, including pain.
Antibiotics might be prescribed if:
- an ear infection does not start to get better after 3 days
- you or your child has any fluid coming out of the ear
- you or your child has an illness that means there’s a risk of complications, such as cystic fibrosis
They may also be prescribed if your child is less than 2 years old and has an infection in both ears.
Should You Limit Your Childs Activities During An Ear Infection
Thereâs no reed to limit your childâs activities during an ear infection unless they have a fever. In that case, itâs best to keep them home from day care or school. Otherwise, they can attend while recovering from the ear infection. Just be sure to let the child care director or school nurse know of your childâs ear infection and how the prescription medicine should be administered.
Some antibiotics may need to be refrigerated, so itâs a good idea to check that the child care center or school has a refrigerator where it can be safely stored. Make sure the medicine is labeled with your childâs name and dosage instructions.
If your baby or toddler participates in swimming, it may be OK for them to swim while recovering from an ear infection as long as they donât have drainage from the ear or a perforation in the eardrum. You may want to clear this with the healthcare provider first.
If you need to travel by airplane with your baby or toddler, know thatâs itâs OK for your baby to travel while recovering from an ear infection. However, they may experience pain from the pressure. This can be remedied by nursing your baby or offering them a pacifier, as the sucking and swallowing can ease any discomfort.
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Baby Ear Infection Treatment
Ear infection in babies typically resolves on its own within a few days, so the strategy should be to keep baby comfortable in the meantime. The common baby ear infection treatment plan, Burgert says, is pain relievers, patience and hugs. While its a common condition thats rarely dangerous, an infection still calls for an evaluation by a doctor, to avoid any potential complications. Talk to your pediatrician about which over-the-counter pain meds, like Tylenol or Motrin, would be best to usebut steer clear of homeopathic ear drops, which arent effective, Burgert says.
Even after the symptoms have disappeared, stop by the doctors office to make sure the ear infection has fully cleared up. You want to make sure that theres no fluid hanging around or scarring in the ear, says Katherine OConnor, MD, a pediatric hospitalist at the Childrens Hospital at Montefiore in New York City.
For a more severe baby ear infection, your doctor may recommend one of the following treatments:
Inserting tubes in the ears. For recurring ear infections, some doctors will recommend surgery to insert tubes into babys ears. These small tubes are placed through the eardrum to help equalize the pressure, Brown explains. This helps to allow fluid to drain and to prevent ear infections from developing in the first place. This also enables your doctor to place antibiotics into the ear canal and treat the infection at its source, Brown explains.
Kids Are Exposed To A Lot Of Germs
Kids are more vulnerable to infections that can cause swelling in the eustachian tubes, too. Colds, allergies, and infections all cause mucus and pus to develop, building up in the inner ear. Kids are in school and daycare where theyre exposed to a lot of these contagions and havent yet built up immunity.
Its important to remember that ear infections arent contagious, but if your child had a cold that virus can be passed on to other kids or your family.
While theyre not germ-related, bottle feeding and secondhand smoke also raise childrens risk of developing ear infections.
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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.
What Are The Harms Of Fluid Buildup In Your Ears Or Repeated Or Ongoing Ear Infections
Most ear infections dont cause long-term problems, but when they do happen, complications can include:
- Loss of hearing: Some mild, temporary hearing loss usually occurs during an ear infection. Ongoing infections, infections that repeatedly occur, damage to internal structures in the ear from a buildup of fluid can cause more significant hearing loss.
- Delayed speech and language development: Children need to hear to learn language and develop speech. Muffled hearing for any length of time or loss of hearing can significantly delay or hamper development.
- Tear in the eardrum: A tear can develop in the eardrum from pressure from the long-lasting presence of fluid in the middle ear. About 5% to 10% of children with an ear infection develop a small tear in their eardrum. If the tear doesnt heal on its own, surgery may be needed. If you have drainage/discharge from your ear, do not place anything into your ear canal. Doing so can be dangerous if there is an accident with the item touching the ear drum.
- Spread of the infection: Infection that doesnt go away on its own, is untreated or is not fully resolved with treatment may spread beyond the ear. Infection can damage the nearby mastoid bone . On rare occasions, infection can spread to the membranes surrounding the brain and spinal cord and cause meningitis.
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When Should I Call The Doctor About An Ear Infection
- You or your child develops a stiff neck.
- Your child acts sluggish, looks or acts very sick, or does not stop crying despite all efforts.
- Your childs walk is not steady he or she is physically very weak.
- You or your childs ear pain is severe.
- You or your child has a fever over 104° F .
- Your child is showing signs of weakness in their face .
- You see bloody or pus-filled fluid draining from the ear.
- The fever remains or comes back more than 48 hours after starting an antibiotic.
- Ear pain is not better after three days of taking an antibiotic.
- Ear pain is severe.
- You have any questions or concerns.
Risk Factors For Ear Infections
Ear infections occur most commonly in young children because they have short and narrow Eustachian tubes. About of children develop an acute ear infection at some point.
Infants who are bottle-fed also have a higher incidence of ear infections than their breastfed counterparts.
Other factors that increase the risk of developing an ear infection are:
- altitude changes
- Take OTC decongestants like pseudoephedrine .
- Avoid sleeping on the affected ear.
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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.
Preventing Ear Infection In Babies
Its important to remember that your child will get sick. You can follow every preventative measure in the book and the child could still get sick. Thats not necessarily a bad thing, as it will help your child build the antibodies required to fight the infection next time it comes around. But if you want to try and prevent your child from getting an ear infection, there are a number of ways that may help out.
What Can Parents Do To Prevent Ear Infections
For babies whose ear infections originate with allergies, doctors may recommend parents make a switch from milk formula to a non-dairy formula. Or, using a decongestant like Flonase during peak ear infection seasons for kids with known allergies.
Importantly, parents can help prevent ear infections by simply keeping kids away from people who may be sick. The ways to avoid bacterial or virus transmissionand the effectiveness of these approachesis more clear than ever amid the pandemic.
To wit, Shikowitz notes this remarkable stat: In the days of COVID when kids are not hanging all over each other at school, not sharing toys, they’re wearing masks, they are socially distant, and they have good hand hygiene, the number of ear infections requiring a surgical intervention has dropped in our practice by 70%.
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
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What To Do If You Suspect Your Child Has An Ear Infection
Even temporary hearing loss related to a childhood ear infection can lead to speech and language delaysor even to permanent hearing loss, Shikowitz explains. And they are just plain painful, too. So if you think your child might have an ear infection, head to a doctor or clinic for evaluation.
The doctor will look inside the ear and confirm whether or not there is an infection. A tool known as a pneumatic otoscope may guide the investigation. Looking in the ear, the doctor may see redness, fluid, or even bubbles. The ear drum may be bulging, because the pressure is built up, Shikowitz says.
How Can I Care For My Child With An Ear Infection At Home
- give your child the pain relief suggested by your doctor
- your child may need rest and lots of comforting and cuddles
- keep your child home from child care or school while they are unwell or have a fever
There is no evidence that decongestant medicines and antihistamines are of any benefit in the treatment of acute ear infections. Don’t use them as they can have unwanted side-effects.
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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.
Ways To Reduce Risk Factors For Ear Infection In Kids
If your childs ear is hurting, it could be an ear infection, which is an inflammation of the middle ear. Five out of six children will have at least one ear infection by their third birthday. Ear infections are the most common reason parents take their children to see their doctor.
Although usually not dangerous, ear infections can be very painful and disruptive to a young childs life, says Dania Lindenberg, MD, a pediatrician at Scripps Coastal Medical Center Hillcrest. Fortunately, there are treatments and measures that can be taken at home to prevent ear infections in children.
Why are ear infections more common in children?
Children are more likely than adults to get ear infections because their immune systems are still developing, which makes it harder for them to fight off infections.
Young children are the most vulnerable also because they have shorter, softer and more level Eustachian tubes than adults, which makes it more difficult for fluid to drain out of the ear, Dr. Lindenberg says.
The Eustachian tube connects the upper part of the throat to the middle ear. If the Eustachian tube is swollen or blocked with mucus due to a respiratory illness like a cold, fluid may not be able to drain. The most common ear infection is called acute otitis media, where parts of the middle ear are infected and swollen and fluid is trapped behind the eardrum.
Ear infection symptoms
Common ear infection symptoms in children include:
Can ear infections be prevented?