Ear infections are common in childhood. UptoDate, an evidence-based decision tool, notes that about 50 percent of babies get at least one ear infection before their first birthday. If not treated, ear infections can create serious health concerns so it is important to recognize their signs and symptoms.
What Is an Ear Infection?
An infection of the middle ear (otitis media) is the most common form of an ear infection, and it may develop after having a cold or the flu. The viruses may cause inflammation, fluid buildup and infection behind the eardrum. UptoDate also notes that acute ear infections can happen at any age but it's most common in children between the ages of 6 months and 24 months.
A middle ear infection may cause your child pain, discomfort, and misery. Some children may not experience any symptoms at all.
Symptoms of infection in young children may include:
- Fever of 100F or higher: About 50 percent of children with ear infections will also have a fever.
- Pulling, tugging or rubbing on the ear: You may notice your little one tugging on his ear, especially when he is laying down.
- Fussiness or irritability: Your baby may cry more or tend to be a lot clingier due to his discomfort.
- Lack of energy: Your baby may be less active than normal.
- Vomiting and diarrhea: The virus causing the ear infection may also affect your baby's gastrointestinal tract.
- Lack of appetite or difficulty eating: The pain your baby may be experiencing may also disturb his regular eating habits.
- Fluid draining from ear: You may notice a yellowish or whitish fluid draining from your child's ear.
- Disturbed or restless sleep: Ear pain may cause your loved one to be fussier and disturb his regular sleeping patterns.
How to Treat Symptoms
You may desire nothing more than to help your loved one get back to his normal playful self. You may be anxious to start your baby on medication to help improve their condition. The 2013 guidelines from the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that most children ages 6 to 23 months be managed through observation and close follow-up unless your child's symptoms worsen or do not improve within 48 to 72 hours. Other clinicians may decide to start treatment with antibiotics immediately.
- Observation: Your pediatrician may decide to treat your child's ear infection primarily through observation and close follow-up. UptoDate notes that you may be instructed to watch your child's symptoms at home and follow-up in the office within 24 hours. If your child is in more pain or if his fever worsens, your health care provider will usually prescribe an antibiotic and recommend continued observation.
- Antibiotics: If your pediatrician prescribes an antibiotic most often they will recommend amoxicillin given over the course of 10 days. Generally, you will see improved symptoms within a day
Antibiotic may be essential in treating your child's infection but this medication does have some side effects. These include:
- Risk for antibiotic resistance
When to Call the Doctor
It is essential to treat your child's ear infection early to prevent complications. If you think your baby may have an ear infection, schedule an appointment with your health care provider as soon as possible to have your baby examined. UptoDate notes that your baby's ear infection symptoms should improve within 24 to 48 hours even if antibiotics are not prescribed. If your child is not getting better after 48 hours or if you think their symptoms are worse than when they were last seen by your pediatrician contact your provider immediately.
Care at Home
It is important to keep your sick baby as comfortable as possible. There are a number of supportive therapies you can do to make your loved one comfy:
- Warm washcloths: Apply a warm washcloth to the infected ear; this may help to reduce pain.
- Encourage rest: Have your baby rest as much as possible to conserve energy and help fight the infection.
- Encourage fluids: Have your loved one drink fluids as much as possible to prevent dehydration.
- Encourage drinking and sucking: The act of moving the jaw to suck or chew can help ease ear pressure.
- Use a pain reliever: You can give your child ibuprofen (Motrin or Advil) or acetaminophen (Tylenol) to help reduce their fever and discomfort. You should never give your baby aspirin as this can cause a Reye syndrome, a serious medical condition.
- Alternative and complementary treatments: These are generally not recommended for young children. Speak to your child's health care provider about the benefits and the associated risk of alternative therapies before using them to treat your baby's ear infection.
Preventing Ear Infections
Although you probably can't keep your baby from never having another ear infection there are some precautions that you can take to lessen his risks:
- Vaccinate your child: Make sure your baby's immunizations are up to date and consider vaccinating against the flu, pneumonia and meningitis. Experts suggest that children who are vaccinated experience fewer ear infections.
- Breast-feeding: The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends breast-feeding your loved one at least until your baby is 6 months. Breast milk contains many antibodies that protect your baby from diseases and infections. Breast-fed babies are less likely to experience infections including ear infections.
- Avoid bottle propping: When feeding your baby, hold your baby at 45 degrees and keep him upright after feeding to prevent fluid from flowing back into his ear tubes.
- Limit pacifier use: Studies suggest continued use of pacifiers by babies over 6 months had an increased risk for ear infections Limit pacifier use for children over the age of 6 months.
On the Mend
Early recognition of the signs and symptoms of an ear infection can ensure that your loved one is evaluated and treated to prevent more serious and permanent complications.