Parents of babies and toddlers know that ear infections are par for the course in many cases, but that doesn’t make them easy to deal with.
Many parents, and even carers, have lots of questions about ear infections, how to spot them, and what to do to treat them now and prevent them in the future. The good news is, we have those answers!
Are Ear Infections More Common In Babies?
When you have a baby or a young child, or a few of them, it might seem as though you’re always dealing with ear infections. Not surprisingly, parents are often left wondering if ear infections are more common in babies and toddlers than in school aged children. Well, the answer is a definite yes!
See, inside the middle ear there’s a canal called the eustachian tube. It connects the middle ear to the back of the nose and throat and helps to ensure pressure is equalised. However, both the throat and the nose are a moist playground for bacteria. Along with this, the eustachian tube is substantially shorter, narrower and more horizontal when children are very young, so bacteria can collect in the ear, resulting in more ear infections in babies and toddlers.
What Are The Signs Of An Ear Infection?
The first time you encounter an ear infection in your child, it can be hard to know if you’re faced with the real deal, so it’s useful to know the signs of an ear infection. Parents who deal with ear infections on a regular basis can usually tell pretty easily when their child is trying to tell them something is wrong, but it takes time to get there. Here are some things to look out for.
1. Nosey Details
Middle-ear infections generally happen on the coat-tails of a cold, so in many cases, the slime coming out of your child’s nose will give you a good idea of what’s happening in their ears. For example, it’s common for a baby to be mildly stuffy and have clear, watery, nasal drainage, without being that sick. Then a few days later, they’re cranky, over it, with yellow or green snotty discharge, and often an ear infection.
2. Night Owls
Often, a baby or young child that wakes more frequently at night and appears to be in pain, particularly if they have a cold that is getting worse, will be a red flag for an ear infection. Infected fluid in the ears puts pressure on the ear drum, which can hurt and result in babies not wanting to lie flat when napping. You can alleviate this pressure by positioning your baby with the sore ear facing up.
3. Eye Knows It
Many doctors agree that babies and toddlers suffering from both a cold and eye discharge are at a pretty high risk of having an ear infection. In the early months of life, this kind of discharge can be caused by clogged tear ducts. However, when it accompanies a cold, particularly in an older baby, there might be a sinus or ear infection at the root.
Why Should Ear Infections Be Treated?
There are two reasons you should always ensure your child’s ear infections are properly treated as per your doctor’s recommendations.
First, ear infections can really hurt, and that pain can make your child very uncomfortable. Second, your child’s hearing is dependent on the vibrating of the eardrum and structure of the middle ear. When you have repeated infections, and particularly if there’s a delay in treatment, the eardrum can be damaged or constant fluid can damage the vibrations and mess with your child’s hearing. Hearing loss, even for a short time, can lead to speech delays and language problems, affecting performance well after the infection has cleared.
When Should I Take My Child To A Doctor?
If you suspect an ear infection, and are seeing some of the signs we’ve listed here, it’s usually a good idea to take your child to see a doctor. You can’t always tell if an infection is present, and your doctor will need to examine both the eardrum and the respiratory tract to confirm it. Still, if you’re concerned, it’s worth attending a clinic or your local GP.
Are Antibiotics Always The Answer?
While antibiotics have become the go-to treatment for ear infections, there are some long-term concerns about their overprescription. For most mild to moderate ear infections, antibiotics are not required to clear the infection up, and the body will clear it out by itself. Generally, only painkillers (age appropriate) need to be given. Providing too many antibiotics too regularly can lead to antibiotic resistance and the rise of super bugs.
Is Ear-Tugging Always A Sign Of Infection?
Ear-tugging is one of those behaviours that parents generally associate with ear infections. However, your child tugging on their ear actually doesn’t always mean an infection is present. Sometimes, tugging can be referred teething pain, or simply just enjoys touching and playing with the ears. Of course, in cases where ear tugging is accompanied by cold-like symptoms, an ear infection is certainly a likely cause. Tugging, banging or rubbing on the ears might also be a sign of ear pain from chronic middle-ear fluid, which is also worth talking to your doctor about.
How Can Ear Infections Be Prevented?
If you’re freaking out at all of the germs that are making their way into the ears of your little ones, take a few deep breaths. There are some ways that you can stop the yucky germs and fluids from collecting in the space behind your child’s eardrums.
We know that not all mums are able to, or choose to, breastfeed. However, studies do suggest that the good stuff in mum’s milk can help increase your child’s natural immunity. If you aren’t breastfeeding and your child is on solids, boost their immunity with a varied diet of fruits and vegetables.
2. Bottle Feeding Position
If you are bottle-feeding instead of breastfeeding, or doing a mix, make sure you keep your baby in an upright position (about 30 degrees or so) when feeding and for about 30 minutes afterwards.
3. Manage Allergens
One of the things that can cause fluids to build up in the middle ear and the nasal passages are allergens. To avoid making this worse, keep animals (both real and plush) away from your little ones while they’re asleep. Also, make sure there’s no cigarette smoke around them!
4. Limit Dummies
Dummies can be great for calming babies down, but studies have shown a link between the frequency of dummy use and the ear infections a child suffers. Your best bet is to limit dummy use to night bedtime only, particularly after 6 months.
The good news about ear infections is that as your child grows the eustachian tube becomes much longer, wider and slanted, which makes it more difficult for both germs and fluid to clog up the middle ear. So, if you’re dealing with lots of ear infections, talk to your doctor about what you can do, but also make sure you’re seeing the light at the end of the tunnel!
What advice would you give mums struggling with their kids’ ear infections?
If you become concerned about any symptoms, please seek immediate medical attention – we have some hotlines and suggested websites for further information and advice – https://www.stayathomemum.com.au/my-kids/babies/important-hotlines-websites/
SAHM takes no responsibility for any illness, injury or death caused by misuse of this information. All information provided is correct at time of publication.