Ear Infection

As a mother of three, I’ve unfortunately dealt with my fair share of ear infections, coughs, infections, rashes, itches, and bumps amongst my children.  I know that I wished I had a “quick gude” to help me through those tough times.

To be as helpful as possible to you and my nanny agency clients, I’ve compiled exactly that – a “quick guide” to ear infections and earaches and I’ve also included links to a few eBook downloads that you might find useful as you seek to solve your baby’s infections, rashes, deal with immunizations, and handle other challenges you might be facing with your little one.

So let’s start out with the basics:

What is an ear infection?

  • The ear is made up of 3 parts – the outer ear, the middle ear and the inner ear. The Eustachian tube connects the middle ear to the back of the nose.
  • When a child has a cold, nose or throat infection, a sinus infection or an allergy, the mucus or fluid can enter the Eustachian tube.
  • The fluids then build up behind the child’s eardrum and become infected by bacteria or a virus.
  • This infection can cause swelling and pain in the ear, which some people also call an earache.
  • This is one of the most common childhood illness next to a common cold

What ages of children are usually affected by ear infections?

  • Some children get their first ear infection before 6 months old
  • Most children have at least 1 ear infection before 3 years of age
  • It is not usual for a child to have 2 separate infections within a few months
  • Peak age for ear infections is 7 – 9 months
  • Children between 6 months to 24 months are usually the most susceptible
  • The younger a child is at the time of the first ear infection, the greater the chance of repeated infections
  • The number of ear infection will decrease as the child begins to age
  • Most children over the age of 6 do not suffer from ear infections.

Why are children more susceptible to ear infections?

  • Children are very susceptible due to the short length of the Eustachian tube, as well as the fact that the Eustachian tube is angled.
  • Because of the way the Eustachian tube sits in the child, bacteria can easily travel from the nose or mouth into the ear and fluid is more easily trapped in the ear.
  • As a child ages, the Eustachian tubes becomes longer and more vertical which allows for better drainage and less of a possibility of bacteria getting into the ear.
  • Since a child’s immune system is immature, his/her body has a hard time fighting of the infection.

Is an ear infection contagious and how does it spread?

  • An ear infection is not contagious, but the cold virus that caused the ear infection is. The cold virus is contagious and is very easily spread.
  • Ear infections can also be genetic and run in families especially if a parent or sibling also has had repeated ear infections
  • Colds and exposure to tobacco smoke often lead to ear infections

How can an ear infection be prevented?

  • Make sure the child is up-to-date on his/her vaccinations
  • During the child’s cold, make sure that the nose stays clear to lower the risk of blockage
  • Try to keep the child out of daily situations where he/she is around a large group of children (like daycare). Instead try to find an environment that has six or less children.
  • Practice good hand-washing habits
  • Keep the child’s toys clean to decrease the number of colds the child gets
  • If the child has allergies with a runny nose, treating the allergies may help
  • If the child is bottle-feeding, keep the child in an upright position when feeding
  • If the child drinks from a sippy cup, do not allow the child to drink while lying down.
  • Keep the child away from areas where people are smoking
  • Use of a pacifier over the age of 6 months can increase the chances of an ear infection since the sucking motion can make it more difficult for the fluid to drain correctly.

What are the symptoms of ear infection?

  • Tends to occur after a cold so the child will be exhibiting cold symptoms
  • Grabbing, pulling or tugging at the ear (may indicate teething if no other symptoms are present)
  • Yellow or whitish fluid draining from the ear
  • Yellow or green drainage from the nose
  • Fussiness or irritability during the day and night
  • Fever over 102 degrees F
  • Does not want to lay flat as it makes the pain increase
  • Loss of appetite – ear infections can make it painful for a child to feed
  • A bad smell coming from the ear
  • Diarrhea
  • Vomiting

What are the best ear infection remedies?

  • Usually in children, a doctor will prescribe an antibiotic
    • The child needs to take the entire dose of antibiotics exactly as directed by the doctor
    • Make sure to take the child back for his/her check-up to ensure that the infection has cleared up.
  • To treat the child’s discomfort, you can try these home remedies for ear infection:
    • Use acetaminophen or ibuprofen to help ease the pain
    • Put several drops of warm (not hot) olive oil or eucalyptus oil into the affected ear and then gently place a cotton ball into the ear to keep the oil from dripping out
    • Hold a warm washcloth or warm water bottle to the affected ear
    • Hold a heating pad on a low setting on the ear
    • Keep the child in an upright position or slightly elevate his/her head as this may relieve some of the pressure
    • While holding the child in an upright position, have him/her sip a little water and swallow as this may assist with opening the Eustachian tube.

 How long does an ear infection last?

  • Most ear infections will go away on their own without treatment (although check with the doctor to get his/her recommendation)
  • Most severe symptoms begin getting better within 24 to 48 hours
  • The ear pain may last for several days

 Call the doctor if:

  • It is the first ear infection the child has had or if the child is less than 4 months old
  • The child is younger than 2 years old and has drainage from the ear, seems to be in a lot of pain, is unable to sleep, isn’t eating or is acting ill
  • Symptoms do not go away in 2 – 3 days or worsens
  • Fever does not go away in 1 – 2 days
  • The child seems to be getting worse after the initial doctor visit
  • The ear infection does not improve after a few days on the antibiotic
  • The child has one ear infections after another for several months in a row
  • The child seems to be having trouble hearing or if you notice any of the following:
    • Talking more softly or loudly than usually
    • Not responding to sounds
    • Having trouble understanding speech in a noisy room
    • Listening with the volume on the TV or radio turned up louder than usual

On a side note related to ear infections – What is the purpose of ear tubes?

  • Sometimes a child who gets multiple ear infections or one ear infection that won’t clear up can benefit from ear tubes.
  • Typically this means 3 – 4 ear infections in a six month period, more than 6 ear infections in a year or fluid that does not drain after 4 – 6 months
  • If a child has fluid in his/her ears that will not go away, he/she can eventually experience hearing loss.
  • The very small tubes are inserted under general anesthesia into the eardrum. The procedure takes about 10 to 15 minutes.
  • The ear tubes help the Eustachian tube drain the fluid better in the child’s ear.
  • The tubes can stay in for 6 months to 18 months and most fall out on their own
  • Talk to the doctor about whether this is a good procedure for the child.

Here is the e-Book about pediatric medications I put together that might help you as you seek out help for your child’s ear infection.  It covers all sorts of stuff that you can use to help your child with her symptoms.

Pediatric Medication

Free Guide

Baby Immunization

Help Colicky Baby

Also, here are some additional videos I produced with my friends at Howcast that might be helpful to you as you tackle other related challenges:

How to Handle a Baby’s Cough

How to Help a Crying Baby

Diaper Bag Must-Haves

How to Handle Baby Diarrhea