Understanding Your Child’s Ear Infection

Ear Infection Symptoms in Children

You might have heard a lot about how common ear infections in children are and how frequently they occur. You might also be wondering how is it possible for an infant or toddler to express an ear-ache when they can’t even speak yet. Don’t worry, just like older children, the tiny ones can also convey their pain and discomfort. They usually demonstrate this through their loud screams and cries as well as their actions, such as clutching their ears.

What is an ear infection?

The two types of ear infections mostly seen in children are middle ear infection (otitis media) and outer ear infections (otitis externa).

Babies and young children are usually more likely to get middle-ear infections, or otitis media, which is a painful inflammation of the middle ear.

Germs in the form of bacteria and viruses (usually from a cold) travel up the Eustachian tube, which connects the space behind the ear drum (middle ear) to the back of the nose. The germs infect the space behind the eardrum, which causes swelling and inflammation of the Eustachian tube. Due to this, air cannot reach the space behind the eardrum, which in turn causes fluid and pus to collect there.

The rapid stretching of the eardrum causes pain to the child and usually brings about a fever.

Infections of the outer ear (or auditory canal,) or Otitis Externa are bacterial infections that occur usually due to an excess of moisture in the canal.

What causes most ear infections?

  • A family history of ear infections
  • Exposure to cigarette smoke
  • Pre-schools and play areas where a child may have increased exposure to other children suffering from colds.

Symptoms of an ear infection include:

  • Tugging at the ear
  • Loss of sleep
  • Fever
  • Irritability and restlessness
  • Ear drainage
  • Loss of appetite
  • Crying when laying down

How to treat an ear infection?

If your child is visibly distressed and his or her fever is alarming you and causing a loss of sleep and appetite then it is important to visit the doctor immediately.

Paracetamol or ibuprofen will most likely be suggested to help reduce pain and to lower the fever.

Depending on the age of your child and the severity of the infection, the doctor might recommend treatment with antibiotics or decide to wait a bit before prescribing them.  However, when it comes to outer ear infections, doctors will always suggest treatment with antibiotic drops.

To ease your child’s pain at home you can try warm compresses over the ear for a few minutes at a time. You can also offer your child various fluids as swallowing can help open the Eustachian tube so the trapped fluid can drain.

Although at the time an ear infection can seem distressing and painful it is very common for small children to have several ear infections in one year.

The eardrum usually heals within one to two weeks, and rarely causes permanent damage to the child’s hearing. Five out of six children will have an ear infection before their 3rd birthday, according to the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders.

As a parent, all you can do when your child is suffering from such an infection is to offer constant comfort and care. This infection can cause your child to be very cranky and irritable as the pain can be very severe, especially while lying down at night. At the same time, you must make sure to visit your child’s doctor as required and discuss all the symptoms so that the correct diagnosis can be determined, followed by a treatment plan.