Ear Infections: What You Need to Know

| November 29, 2012 | 18 Comments

Doctor checking a girls earWintertime is just around the corner, and in many areas, we’re already into cold and flu season. One complication of the common cold that can also occur on its own is the middle ear infection. Some kids seem predisposed to them: My son had what seemed like constant ear infections when he was a baby, while my daughter never had even one. Here are some things that you should know about this common childhood malady.

An ear infection occurs when fluid gets trapped in the eustachian tube, the tiny tube that helps to equalize the pressure of the middle ear. You’ve experienced this blockage before; think of the full feeling you get in your ears when you have a bad cold or are miserable from seasonal allergies. The fluid itself is uncomfortable, but the infection happens when bacteria or a virus gets into the trapped fluid and starts to multiply. Then the infection creates pus, a lot of pain, redness and, in some cases, a fever. If your child is too young to tell you that her ear hurts, she might cry a lot and pull on her ear.

Although ear infections can be very painful, they usually go away on their own within a couple of days. When my son was an infant, over a decade ago, doctors tended to prescribe antibiotics for every ear infection. More recently, however, many doctors take a wait-and-see approach, only giving antibiotics if the symptoms aren’t resolving after two days. In the meantime, you can use warm compresses and over-the-counter pain relievers (like Tylenol or Motrin) to keep your child comfortable and reduce his fever. And some kids will receive antibiotics right away, depending on age, the severity of the infection and other health conditions, so it’s still important to have your pediatrician take a look and see if antibiotics are needed. Just don’t be too surprised if you’re sent home without a prescription.

Sometimes kids need ear surgery to place tubes in the ear if they have frequent infections. This is done by an ears, nose and throat specialist. It’s a quick procedure, but it does require general anesthesia, so it’s not something to be done lightly.

A few things that might help prevent ear infections are:

  • Breastfeeding
  • Holding your baby in a more upright position if you’re bottlefeeding; don’t let him lie down flat on his back while eating.
  • Not smoking or allowing your baby to be around secondhand smoke.
  • Preventing colds with good handwashing habits and by limiting the amount of time that your baby spends around other children during the cold and flu season, if possible.
  • Keeping up with your baby’s vaccination; some prevent against illnesses that can progress into ear infections.

Ear infections are a painful part of life for many babies, so keep that in mind if your little one is congested and seems to be in pain. A quick check by the doctor can ease your mind and, if medication is needed, have your baby feeling better in no time.

Comments (18)

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  1. krista grandstaff says:

    I have 4 kids, all breast fed, but only my oldest got ear infections…and only 2-3 when he was a baby…I firmly believe he got them because he was in daycare, and exposed to a lot of things that the others being at home were not exposed to. Still, he was my “starter” kid..lol.. so I changed things up over the years with the other three… if I saw even a hint of a sniffle or runny nose, even if it was clear…I set about drying that up…I know those efforts paid off because none of them even had a hint of an ear infection or cough when they were small..

  2. Kelvin Justine says:

    Caring for a baby is really a career to master but will not be that difficult if you know this kind of things.

  3. Mary Ellen says:

    Thank you for this information, very helpful

  4. Anita Leibert says:

    I have dealt with inner ear infections most of my life. I’ve also had tubes done twice, but still have troubles even to this day. I’ve learned that it is also helpful to try to keep water out of my ears if possible and at the first sign of a cold, try taking something to clear up congestion. My father has had problems most of his life, so I wonder if this may also be a hereditary thing.

  5. denise smith says:

    i have a daughter who is autistic she gets alot of ear infections thanks for the information this helps me alot

  6. Liza says:

    Although I was not able to nurse both my kids for a long time I’m glad that none of them had ear infections. Great tips!

  7. Karen Glatt says:

    This is such good advice on how to take care of your child when they get an ear infection. I got ear infections when I was a child, and when a child has ear infections they need to be treated properly so there is no ear damage. I am glad that my ears turned out okay.

  8. Bonnie says:

    Great advice. My grandaughter aleays seems to have one

  9. Jennifer Mae Hiles says:

    I don’t know that I have ever had an ear infection and up til this point (my daughter is 19 months) that is probably the only problem she hasn’t had! Fingers crossed that it stays that way, it does not sound fun.

  10. Rebecca Sinclair says:

    Thankfully my kids weren’t prone to ear infections. My daughter got one that was pretty bad and kept her up at night, but that is the only time I can remember ear infections out of 4 kids. I do think some kids are more prone to them than others. This is great info though – thanks for sharing!

  11. bill elliott says:

    Thank you for the great advice. It is good to know with seven Grandchildren from 3 months to 4 years old.

  12. Wendy T says:

    An earache can hurt really bad. I think I tend to kind of forget, until I get one.

  13. deb p says:

    I have ear problems too,I use earplugs to keep the water out of my ears.

  14. Chrystal D says:

    I don’t have kids but I have had ear infections myself and they HURT!

  15. Aimee C. says:

    I agree with you 100%…my son has been prone to get ear infections and they have cleared on their own everytime…I give him a hot compress and prop him up with tylenol for pain and hes good to go usually the next day.

  16. Deborah says:

    Good advice. My son was prone to ear infections as a baby, and had tubes put in his ears. My granddaughter is also prone and has recently had tubes done. Sometimes even breastfeeding doesn’t help. 🙁

  17. ANN*H says:

    This is a very good article and just in time for my grandsons ear ache. He has had alot of pain in his ear and we thought maybe it was an inner ear infection but the doctor said no it wasnt. We had him checked twice he was crying so much all the time. Well low and behold a few days later we found a tick in the corner of his ear that no one seen. After that was removed he was better. I always worry about inner ear infections causing hearing problems

  18. Tara A. says:

    I had chronic ear infections as a child, tubes twice, and eventually ear surgeries to fix holes left by the tubes. I can understand the importance of paying attention to problems with your ears!

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