Baby Ear Infection: Reasons, Symptoms And Treatment Baby Ear Infection: Reasons, Symptoms And Treatment
You can be the most conscientious parent in the world and take precautions, but you will be unable to prevent your baby from catching... Baby Ear Infection: Reasons, Symptoms And Treatment

baby-ear-infection

You can be the most conscientious parent in the world and take precautions, but you will be unable to prevent your baby from catching a cold.And, the moment your little one gets a cold, he is at a high risk of developing an ear infection. Ear infection can be worrying for parents, as the baby will be fussy and cranky, and may refuse to feed. You will be at your wit’s end wondering what you can do to soothe and help your infant. Thankfully, we, at MomJunction, have the answers that will guide you onto the right path.

What Is An Ear Infection?

The first signs of an ear infection are getting fussy, crying more than usual, and maybe tugging of the ear. Babies seem to be prone to ear infections. According to the US National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders, five out of every six children get an ear infection before their third birthday [1].

You may wonder what an ear infection is. Is it same as an earache? To understand an ear infection, you may first have to figure out the structure of the ear. The ear has three parts – outer, middle and inner ear. When the middle ear, nestled between the outer and inner ear, gets blocked by fluid, inflamed and infected, it causes redness and bulging of the eardrum, resulting in pain and often fever [2]. This is an ear infection. Like any other infection, an ear infection also occurs due to the proliferation of bacteria or viruses in the middle ear. This infection is a common childhood illness, so your kid is not alone suffering from it.

How Does An Ear Infection Occur?

As a parent, you’ll be thinking why my baby. Well, neither you nor your baby has control over the situation. As stated earlier, bacteria and viruses cause ear infections in preschoolers and babies, and they are prone to these infections for several reasons:

1. Size Of The Eustachian Tubes:

Your baby has tubes that connect the middle ear to the back of the throat. These tubes are called Eustachian tubes. Your baby is still growing and developing so these tubes are small in size. This makes it easy for the pathogens to migrate from the throat to the middle ear, causing an ear infection.

2. Immature Immune System:

Babies have immature immune systems, and this makes them more susceptible to infections. When they get a cold, pathogens from the back of the throat travel to the middle ear via the Eustachian canal and cause an ear infection [3].

Signs And Symptoms Of Baby Ear Infection:

Ear infections in babies can cause many symptoms.

1. Pain:

Your baby will have pain with an ear infection. Since your child is unable to tell you that he is in pain, he will cry and appear irritable. When he feeds, the crying will worsen because the sucking and swallowing exert pressure in the middle ear.

2. Appetite Loss:

When you have pain, food is the last thing on your mind. So don’t expect your baby’s appetite to be too healthy with an ear infection.

3. Trouble Sleeping:

Since the ear pain will be omnipresent, your little angel will have trouble sleeping. So be prepared to spend sleepless nights until the infection goes away.

4. Ear Drainage:

You may see white or yellow fluid coming out of your kid’s ear. This fluid may have a few traces of blood and could have a foul odor. Once the fluid drains from the ear, you will notice a reduction in the pain, but don’t take it as a sign that the infection has gone.

5. Fever:

Like most infections, an ear infection also causes a fever. Your kid may have a temperature from 100 degree F to 104 degree F [4].

Causes Of Baby Ear Infection:

As stated earlier, baby ear infection occurs due to a virus or bacterium in the middle ear. More often than not, the infection develops due to another ailment, such as a cold, allergy or flu, which causes congestion and inflammation of the throat, nasal passages, and Eustachian tubes.

How Eustachian Tubes Cause An Ear Infection:

Humans have two narrow tubes that connect the middle ear and the back of the throat, just behind the nasal passages. These tubes transport fresh air to the ear, aid in draining normal secretions from the ear and regulate the pressure in the middle ear.

If your little one gets an upper respiratory infection or allergy, the Eustachian tubes swell up and get mucus. This causes a blockage. Hence, the usual drainage of the middle ear cannot take place, causing the fluids to accumulate. Since these tubes are narrower and more horizontal in kids, there are higher chances of getting blocked or hindering drainage from the middle ear.

How Adenoids Cause An Ear Infection:

Adenoids are two small tissue pads located at the back of the nose near the opening of the Eustachian tubes. They are part of the immune system and prevent dust and germs from entering the body.

When your baby’s adenoids get inflamed, they block the Eustachian tubes, making it difficult for the middle ear to drain out. Also, the infection can travel from the adenoids to the ear. Kids have larger adenoids compared to adults, and this plays a role in an ear infection [5].

When To Call The Doctor:

If you suspect an ear infection, it is necessary you consult your pediatrician. However, if your kid exhibits the following symptoms, you need to call your doctor right away:

1. Fever:

If your child develops a fever, it is imperative you call your doctor immediately. If your baby is under three months, and has a temperature of over 100.4 degree F or more, get in touch with the neonatologist as this is a sign of a severe infection. If your kid is between three months and three years and the fever is 101.5 degree F, call your doctor.

2. No Improvement In Your Child’s Condition:

Whether your child gets antibiotics or not, symptoms of ear infections tend to abate after 72 hours. However, if this doesn’t happen, contact your physician. You should also call your doctor if your child gets better and then the infection returns. These are signs of a chronic ear infection and require a more aggressive treatment protocol.

3. Bloody Or Pus-Like Discharge From The Ear:

If you notice a bloody or pus-like discharge from your baby’s ear, it is a sign that the fluid buildup in the ear has managed to rupture your kid’s eardrum. Before you begin panicking, remember this is not as bad as you think. The rupturing eases the pressure in the middle ear, and your child’s eardrum will heal in a few weeks. However, make sure you take your little one the same day to see a pediatrician to avert complications.

Diagnosis Of Baby Ear Infection:

Diagnosis of an ear infection is a combination of asking questions and evaluating the ear. Sometimes, the pediatrician might suggest some tests.

1. Asking Questions:

Your physician will want to know more about your kid’s health, whether he has recently had a sore throat or cold, is he pulling his ears, and if he is having trouble going to sleep.

2. Internal Ear Examination:

The doctor will also conduct an internal ear examination using a lighted instrument called otoscope. This instrument allows the physician to check the eardrum. For the procedure (don’t worry, it is not painful), the pediatrician will ask you to hold your baby on your lap.

He might use a pneumatic otoscope to flow a little air into the ear canal. This helps the physician ascertain if there is fluid buildup behind the eardrum. If there is no effusion, the eardrum will move back and forth with the air, but if there is, it will become difficult for the eardrum to move.

3. Tympanocentesis:

On rare occasions, the pediatrician may pierce the eardrum with a tiny tube to drain out the buildup of fluid. This procedure, called Tympanocentesis, alleviates pressure from inside the ear and also lets the doctor send the fluid sample for lab testing to figure out the type of virus or bacterium causing the infection. This testing is for ear infections that do not respond as expected to treatments.

4. Acoustic Reflectometry:

This test allows the doctor to measure the amount of fluid present in the middle ear. It is an indirect method of measurement. The eardrum can absorb sounds. So the physician uses a device to direct sound to the eardrum, which absorbs some and reflects back the other. Based on the amount of sound the eardrum reflects, the fluid volume can be measured. The higher the presence of fluid, the greater the sound reflection by the eardrum.

5. Other Tests:

In the case of a baby suffering from persistent or chronic ear infections, the physician may recommend consulting an audiologist, speech therapist and developmental therapist. These specialists will perform their own tests to ascertain the hearing, language comprehension, speech skills and developmental abilities of your little one.

Treatment For Baby Ear Infection:

The treatment for a baby ear infection depends on the age of the child, his overall health and the severity of the symptoms. The doctor may adopt one of the following treatment approaches:

1. Wait-And-See:

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends a wait-and-see approach, as symptoms of an ear infection tend to improve after a couple of days, and a majority of infections clear up without any medication in a week or two.

Usually, this approach is best for:

Infants between the ages of six months and 23 months, who have a temperature of less than 102.2 degree F and mild pain in one ear for less than 48 hours.
Kids who are 24 months and older with mild pain for under 48 hours and a temperature less than 102.2 degree F.

2. Pain Management:

As an ear infection causes pain, the doctor may recommend giving your little angel an OCT painkiller. You can give acetaminophen or ibuprofen to your child for pain relief. Do not give your kid aspirin, especially if he is under six months of age. Aspirin can lead to Reye’s Syndrome in younger kids, resulting in swelling of the liver and brain.

You can also use a warm compress. Just place a moist and warm washcloth on the infected ear to provide pain relief.

3. Antibiotics:

If your little one is less than six months, the doctor would prescribe antibiotics. Make sure you complete the course of medication as advised by the physician.

A pediatrician will prescribe antibiotics only if the infection is severe and your child is running a fever. However, this will occur after an initial observation period.

Home Remedies For Baby Ear Infection:

People are using home remedies for ear infections since time immemorial. However, do not put oil, cotton buds or eardrops into your baby’s ears unless your doctor tells you to do so [6]. Also, before you use any home remedy, run it by your pediatrician.

1. Warm Compress:

Wet a washcloth in hot water. Squeeze out the water and place the warm washcloth over the infected ear for about 10 to 15 minutes. It will help with the ear pain.

2. Hydration:

Give your little one a lot of fluid. This will assist in clearing the mucus in Eustachian tubes. The act of swallowing can also open up the tubes. This, in turn, will allow the fluid buildup to drain from the middle ear.

3. Elevate Your Little One’s Head:

Raise your baby’s head with a pillow. Do not place the pillow under your baby’s head as it can increase the chances of suffocation. Instead, put the pillow under the mattress. This will help to drain your kid’s sinuses.

4. Massage With Essential Oils:

Use a diluted essential oil, such as lavender, tea tree, oregano or eucalyptus oil, and gently rub the outside of the infected ear, the jaw, and neck region. Use a downward massage motion behind the ear to facilitate drainage.

5. Give Your Baby Elderberry Syrup:

Elderberry has antiviral and anti-inflammatory properties [7]. It will help ease the infection and will also strengthen your baby’s immune system. Consult your pediatrician to find out the right dosage for your child.

6. Feed Your Child Fermented Cod Liver Oil:

Some healthcare experts believe a deficiency in Vitamin A can wreak havoc with the fluid-clearing system of the ear. Fermented cod liver oil is a source of true Vitamin A, and you can give it to your child after getting the go-ahead from your physician.

Prevention Of Baby Ear Infection:

Here are some ways you can minimize the chances of your little one coming down with a painful ear infection.

  • Protect your little one from secondhand cigarette smoke as it can make him more susceptible to ear infections.
  • Keep your child away from sick kids to prevent an upper respiratory infection, which can cause ear infections.
  • Breastfeed your baby for minimum six months as your milk contains antibodies, which will protect him from infections, including ear infections.
  • Do not let your baby use a pacifier constantly.
  • Wean your little one off the bottle by the time he is 12 months old.
  • Make sure your kid’s vaccinations are up-to-date. Speak to your pediatrician about vaccinating your baby against the flu.
  • Wash your hands thoroughly before you pick up your baby. This will prevent germs spreading from you to your child, and keep him from catching a cold [8].

FAQs On Baby Ear Infection:

Here are answers to some frequently asked questions that you may want to know:

1. How Common Are Ear Infections?

As mentioned earlier, five out of six children will get an ear infection at least once by the time they reach their third birthday [9]. An ear infection is the most common reasons for parents to take their babies and small kids to a pediatrician.

2. How Can I Tell If My Baby Has An Ear Infection?

If your baby is sick and has an infection, he will exhibit specific behaviors, such as crankiness, irritability, and crying more than usual. Your baby may refuse to feed as the sucking will worsen the pain in the ear.

Other signs of an ear infection include:

  • Grabbing or tugging his ears
  • Unpleasant odor emitting from his ears
  • Yellow or whitish fluid coming out of your child’s ear
  • Diarrhea or vomiting is a possibility with ear infection, as it can affect an infant’s gastrointestinal tract
  • Your baby starts crying each time you make him lie down. This is because lying down can worsen the ear pain

3. How Long Does An Ear Infection Last?

Usually, the pain from an ear infection comes on quickly. The good news is it doesn’t last too long. It should go away in about 24 hours. An ear infection can take about a week to 10 days to clear up, but the fluid may take several weeks to disappear. The presence of the fluid behind the ear can lead to short-term hearing issues.

4. How Can I Care For My Child At Home?

  • As mentioned earlier, you can give your little one OTC acetaminophen to ease the pain. A warm compress will also help. Do not use any eardrops without explicit instructions from the pediatrician.
  • Give your child natural yogurt. The probiotics present in the yogurt could prevent ear infection. The good bacteria are safe for your kid and can improve his digestion.
  • Of course, your little angel will be cranky and fussy. So be prepared to cuddle and hug your little one a lot. A mother’s cuddle can do wonders!

5. My Baby’s Ear Hasn’t Improved. What Should I Do?

If your baby’s ear infection symptoms do not improve, or they get worse after 48 to 72 hours, take your child to a pediatrician right away. The doctor may start him on antibiotics. If after that too your little one doesn’t get better, the doctor will change the medication and re-examine your baby.

6. Are Ear Infections In Babies Ever Serious?

Yes, ear infections can turn serious, causing your baby a lot of pain and you a lot of stress and anxiety. Frequently recurring ear infections can scar the eardrum, leading to hearing loss. Also, there is a risk of a mild infection taking a turn for the worse, leading to long-term damage to your kid’s hearing.

Also, it is prudent to remember that untreated ear infection can cause mastoiditis or meningitis. Mastoiditis is an infection of the skull behind the ear while meningitis is the infection of the meninges, the membranes lining the brain.

7. What Are The Possible Complications From An Ear Infection?

Usually, ear infections do not cause complications. However, persistent and frequent ear infections can result in:

Impaired Hearing:

Mild hearing loss is common after an ear infection. If your kid keeps getting it frequently, it will cause permanent damage to the eardrum and the middle ear, leading to an irreversible hearing loss.

Speech And Developmental Delays:

Since your baby will not be able to hear and have social interaction, he will suffer from delays in development skills, speech, and social skills.

Severe Eardrum Tear:

At times, too much fluid buildup behind the eardrum can cause the drum to tear. However, this tear heals on its own in 72 hours. At times, it is severe and doesn’t heal. It will require surgical intervention to repair it.

Risk Of Secondary Infections:

Untreated ear infections can cause their to spread to the bone behind the ear. This infection can damage the mastoid bone and result in cysts filled with pus. On rare occasions, untreated ear infections can damage the structure of the middle ear or spread to the membranes surrounding the brain, causing meningitis in your child.

8. When Is It More Than An Ear Infection?

You may think your little one has a routine ear infection and may not worry too much as you know most symptoms will abate within 72 hours. However, your kid can have more than a routine ear infection, such as:

Chronic Ear Infection:

If your baby gets one or two ear infections a year, it is normal. It won’t be fun for you, but you will have to rough it out. However, if the infections are four or more a year, it is a chronic case that may not clear out and lead to recurring infections. This will need a more aggressive form of treatment to prevent permanent hearing loss.

Glue Ear:

Sometimes, the fluid inside the middle ear may not clear up completely. This will cause the fluid to thicken up and become glue-like. You may notice it oozing out of your baby’s ear. This will cause hearing loss. Albeit the loss is temporary, it can become permanent if you don’t get the glue ear (or otitis media with effusion, as it is medically known) treated.

9. When Do Children Need Tubes In Their Ears?

If your child suffers from a chronic ear infection, the doctor will insert a tiny tube into his ear to drain out the fluid and prevent bacterial buildup in the middle ear. The tympanostomy tube reduces the risk of hearing loss and also minimizes the incidence of infections.

An ENT specialist will insert the tubes under general anesthesia. The insertion takes a few minutes. You needn’t worry. The tubes usually fall off on their own after six to 18 months.

Baby ear infection is no joke. It causes the child a lot of pain and discomfort and stresses out the parents. The good news is, kids usually stop getting ear infections after they are three years old, as their immune system will become more mature and the structure of the Eustachian tubes also will change, to be more like an adult. So just hang in there and tide over the infection while making sure your child gets the treatment he requires to prevent long-term damage to the eardrum and middle ear.

Henry Okafor

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