A baby ear infection can bring a lot of troubles to both the child and the parents. In most cases, parents themselves understand that there is something wrong with the baby: he/she is naughty and cries more than usual and without any reason – especially towards the end of recovery from a cold or respiratory infection.
The statistics of this disease is relentless: by the age of three, about 75% of babies will face an ear infection at least once. That is why parents need to have the necessary knowledge in this area.
How to Determine If Your Child Has an Ear Infection?
The easiest way to determine if a child has an ear infection (or any other disease) is to watch for changes in your baby’s mood.
If the child becomes restless, or starts crying more than usual, start looking for a problem. If he/she has a fever (small or high), you have another clue. Ear infections usually occur after a cold or sinusitis.
Signs of Baby Ear Infection
- The child pulls, grabs, or constantly touches the ears. This may be a sign that his ears hurt. Infants can touch the ears for various reasons or for no reason at all. So if there are no other manifestations of the disease, the cause is most likely not an infection.
- Diarrhea or vomiting. The bacterium that causes ear infections can also affect the gastrointestinal tract.
- Decreased appetite. Ear infections can cause gastrointestinal disturbances. They can also provoke painful swallowing and chewing in a child. If the child rejects the breast or bottle, after a couple of first sips, it is worth paying attention to.
- Yellow or whitish fluid seeping from the ear. This is not a common symptom, but a true one. It also signals that a small hole develops in the eardrum. (Do not worry – it will heal as soon as the infection begins to pass.)
- Unpleasant smell. You may notice an unpleasant smell from your child’s ear.
- Sleep problems. Lying down can aggravate the soreness of an ear infection.
What Causes Ear Infection?
An ear infection in a child results from the accumulation of fluid in the auditory tubes. Liquid becomes an excellent source of nutrition for bacteria. As the bacteria multiply, a harmless but painful infection occurs. Hence, there is the redness and inflammation of the eardrum. The main culprits here are runny nose, allergies and stuffy nose, because these conditions lead to fluid accumulation.
Who Is More Prone to Ear Infection?
As a rule, children under three years of age are at increased risk. Their immune system is in the process of development (they get sick more often), and the auditory tubes are rather short, horizontal and still growing. In children aged 5–6 years, the latter are located more vertically, which facilitates the movement of fluid and prevents the occurrence of infection. In addition, the location and size of the adenoids that help fight infection make babies more vulnerable to infections. Adenoids increase to one and a half to two years.
If You Suspect an Ear Infection, Should You Immediately Call a Doctor?
Ear infections are difficult to detect and blindly treat. The doctor must examine the eardrum and the entire respiratory system in order to accurately identify the diagnosis and prescribe treatment.
The doctor should be called immediately at the first sign of an ear infection. He should examine the child’s ear with an instrument called an otoscope. A red, swollen and emitting some kind of liquid eardrum is the most likely to be infected.
Most mild ear infections can be cured without antibiotics. Therefore, observe the child’s behavior: if the improvement does not come within two or three days, consider giving your baby antibiotics.
Are Antibiotics Necessary?
Although antibiotics are very often used in the treatment of ear infections, recently experts have been increasingly inclined to an individual approach in each case. One third of ear infections are of viral etiologies that are not amenable to antibiotic treatment. Another part of the bacterial inflammation does not require antibiotic therapy. Plus, the unreasonable use of antibiotics can stimulate the development of drug-resistant bacterial strains.
The decision on the use of antibiotics is based on the assessment of several factors, the main of which are the age of the child and the severity of the disease. As a rule, antibiotics are recommended for infants and children up to two years old: at this age, the baby cannot yet express in words how much it hurts. And inadequate treatment in this period can lead to the most dangerous complications, including hearing loss.
If the child is older than two years, the symptoms of the inflammatory process are dim and there is no confidence in the diagnosis, the doctor may decide on waiting tactics. It is necessary to observe the child for 48 or 72 hours. It is unlikely that the baby will fully recover during this time, but the symptoms should improve, otherwise, most likely, it will be decided to start a course of antibiotics.
After the termination of the illness, it is necessary to visit the pediatrician in a few weeks to make sure that fluid accumulation and traces of infection are no longer present. Most likely, the disease will completely pass by this time. However, there are situations when the fluid remains in the ear cavity for a long time, causing recurrence of inflammatory processes, affecting hearing and speech development. In this case, a course of physiotherapy is needed.
Why Is It Important to Properly Treat Ear Infections in Children?
Your baby’s hearing is directly related to vibrations of the eardrum and middle ear structures. Frequent infections can damage the eardrum, while fluid buildup dampens vibrations that interfere with normal hearing. That is why it is very important to properly and promptly treat ear infections, especially during the period when a child learns to speak. Periodic hearing loss can lead to delays, speech defects and even linguistic problems that affect the child’s further progress in school.
How to Prevent Baby Ear Infection?
Now that you know how the infection occurs, try to avoid dangerous factors so that the liquid does not get into your baby’s eardrums.
Breastfeeding: Maternal milk increases the natural immunity and protective barriers of the body.
Feeding the bottle upright: Try to feed the baby only in an upright position and hold your child vertically for at least 20 minutes after feeding.
Stay away from allergens: Irritants can cause fluid to form in the nasal passages as well as in the middle ear. Keep pets and fluffy toys away from the baby when he/she is sleeping. Do not smoke at all when the baby is near!
Get rid of the pacifier: Studies show a direct relationship between the frequency of use of the pacifier and the formation of ear infections. Limit the use of pacifiers for the child during sleep, especially if he/she is already 6 months or more.
Strengthen Immunity: Fruits, vegetables, and seafood are shown to improve the infant’s developing immune system.
The baby will outgrow it: The good news is that your child is growing, the Eustachian tube becomes longer and tilted at a different angle, which makes the probability of microbes and fluid penetration minimal. At the same time, the immune system is strengthened by minimizing these annoying ear infections.