Children are no strangers to ear infection. Two out of three will have an ear infection by the time they celebrate their first birthday, and 80% will have experienced at least one by the age of three. As common as ear infections are in children, they usually clear up quickly, and rarely lead to anything more serious.
Why Do Children Get Ear Infections?
It should come as no surprise to many parents that ear infections represent one of the top reasons for pediatric visits. Children, particularly those between three months and four years of age, are susceptible to ear infections. When the Eustachian tube – which is still developing in children – becomes blocked, fluid in the middle ear has nowhere to drain. Germs and bacteria grow in the trapped fluid, causing an infection. Cold viruses, influenza, and allergies are the most common culprits.
Children’s immune systems are also underdeveloped, making them more vulnerable to colds and other viruses. Factor in daycare settings and poor hygiene skills, and you’ll understand why there’s such a high incidence of ear infections in kids.
What Are The Symptoms of Ear Infection?
Pain in the infected ear is the main symptom of an ear infection. Younger children, especially those who can’t vocalize their feelings, may tug or pull at the ear, and are likely to be more irritable than usual. They may be prone to inconsolable crying. Other symptoms include fever, loss of appetite, trouble sleeping, difficulty hearing, headache, diarrhea, vomiting, and fluid discharge from the ear.
To diagnose an ear infection, your child’s pediatrician will examine the ears, throat, and nasal passages with an otoscope, looking for a buildup of fluid.
How Do You Treat an Ear Infection?
Often, your child’s pediatrician will recommend taking a wait-and-see approach. Ear infections usually clear up on their own after a few days, even without medical treatment. Eardrops and over-the-counter pain medications appropriate for your child’s age can help relieve fever and pain. Using a warm, moist washcloth as a compress can also help with discomfort.
If a bacterial infection is the cause of the ear infection, your child will need to take antibiotics. Be sure to continue the full course of treatment even if symptoms disappear, in order to prevent a flare-up.
To prevent ear infections from recurring in the future, teach your child good hygiene habits, such as frequent hand washing, to lessen the odds of developing a cold or other illness. Breastfeed your baby if possible, and wean your child from the pacifier. Make sure all vaccinations are current and up to date.