It’s 3:14 a.m. and you’re up again with your nine month old. This is the third time this week and you’re starting to wonder if she has an ear infection. Here are a few signs, symptoms and causes of ear infections in babies – along with a few warning signs of a larger issue to keep in mind.
“90 percent of kids will have at least one ear infection before they start school; most will occur between the ages of six months and four years.”
American Academy of Pediatrics
What causes an ear infection?
Inside tiny ear canals the Eustachian tube connects the middle ear to the back of the throat. This passageway serves as a moist breeding ground for bacteria and since a baby’s Eustachian tube is short, wide and more horizontal than they are in older kids and adults. This means that fluid is more likely to pool in babies’ and toddlers’ Eustachian tubes – and the pooled fluid provides the perfect conditions for an infection to take hold.
Well ear pain is the most common symptom of an ear infection – but how do you know if they’re in pain before they begin talking? Younger children may tug at their ears, be fussier than normal, or have a hard time sleeping. A fever may or may not accompany an ear infection. Ear infections often come about during a cold due to excess fluid buildup.
While antibiotics are usually prescribed, the American Academy of Pediatrics now recommends a ‘watch-and-see’ approach. This is due to many ear infections clearing up on their own without the intervention of antibiotics – and some believe that the overuse of antibiotics may have contributed to the rise of antibiotic resistant germs.
If your baby is otherwise healthy and doesn’t appear to be in severe pain, the doctor may suggest waiting two to three days. If your tike isn’t feeling better by then your pediatrician may then prescribe an antibiotic treatment.
It’s extremely important to treat ear infections properly – your child’s hearing depends on it. Repeated infections and fluid accumulation can damage the eardrum and dampens both eardrum and middle ear structure vibrations, which interferes with hearing. While the ‘watch-and-see’ method is the new recommendation, it doesn’t mean that you should make that diagnosis yourself. Visit an emergency care clinic or urgent care clinic when an ear infection is suspected.
Ear infections are hard to treat and diagnose blind. Your doctor needs to examine both the eardrum and the whole respiratory tract to make the correct recommendation.
So we know how ear infections are caused and treated – but what about some preventative measures?
Limit the binky
Numerous studies show a direct correlation between the frequency of pacifier use and ear infections. Try to limit the use when your baby is falling asleep, especially if your kid is over 6 months old.
Irritants can cause fluid to build up more easily in the nasal passages and middle ear. Keep pets and stuffed animals away while baby sleeps – and never, ever smoke around baby!
Try to keep baby propped up (at least 30 degrees) and keep baby upright for at least 30 minutes after the feeding.
Boost baby’s immune system
A healthy diet of fruits and veggies has been shown to improve babies’ developing immune systems.
Passes with age
As your child grows the Eustachian tube becomes longer, narrower, and positions itself more vertically to allow fluid to drain rather than collect.