Children experience more ear infections than any other age group, thanks in large part to anatomy: their Eustachian tube, which allows fluid to drain from the middle ear, is smaller than an adult’s, and is still developing. This makes it prone to blockages, which result in painful ear infections when germs and fluid invade the middle ear.
Signs & Symptoms of Ear Infection
The first sign of an ear infection in children is often irritability. Pain makes children cranky, especially when they can’t express themselves any other way; they may cry uncontrollably, and are often observed tugging or rubbing at the affected ear. There may be a discharge of fluid from the ear, and your child may have headaches, fever, dizziness, vomiting, trouble sleeping, difficulty hearing, and loss of appetite.
Children most at risk for ear infection are between the ages of 6 months and 2 years, attend child care in a group setting, are bottle fed instead of breast fed, and exposed to tobacco smoke or other airborne irritants. Additionally, ear infections are most common in the fall and winter months, during cold and flu season.
Diagnosis & Treatment
Your child’s doctor can diagnose an ear infection by examining the ears with an instrument called an otoscope. Signs to look for include dullness or redness, and fluid in the middle ear. A hearing test may be given, particularly if your child has suffered from multiple ear infections.
Since most ear infections clear up on their own without medical intervention, many doctors prefer to wait several days before starting treatment. Over-the-counter eardrops or pain medications such as Tylenol or Motrin can be given to help manage discomfort, and a warm, wet washcloth used as a compress against the ear is helpful at providing relief. Antibiotics are more of a last resort nowadays, but if the infection doesn’t clear up on its own after a few days or is the result of a bacterial infection, they are likely to be prescribed.