For almost every parent, you have probably wondered about treating ear infections in children. You’ve had to think about this because most young children experience ear infections at some point in time. For some kids, they might get ear infections quite often, possibly every few weeks or months. For other children, though, they may occur less frequently and only after a cold, but they, nonetheless, still present issues for your household.
As a parent, even if your child hasn’t gotten one yet, you still need to prepare yourself for an ear infection popping up. To give you the tools you need, we want to talk more about treating ear infections in children. Before we get that far, though, we plan to cover everything you might need to know about ear infections.
The idea here is that the more you know about what causes ear infections and how to prevent them, the better off you will be in general. Let’s start with first understanding the very basics with what an ear infection is. After we have this down, we can move on to what to look out for with the symptoms, how to prevent one, and possible treatment options.
What is an Ear Infection?
Before we get into the nitty gritty of talking about treating ear infections in children, we really need to understand what an ear infection is. Again, the reason we’re even talking about ear infections is that they happen to be very common in young children. In fact, most children develop at least one ear infection before they reach the age of 2. As a result, many early visits to the pediatrician’s office often involve an ear infection.
Any type of infection arises due to the presence and activity of harmful germs such as viruses and bacteria. Infections grow as germs enter your body and start to grow and flourish where they don’t belong. One common place for bacteria to cause infections in young children just happens to be their ears.
Your ear actually has three distinct parts, which include the outer, middle, and inner ear. An ear infection most commonly refers to bacterial growth in the middle part of your ear. In this part of your ear, germs have prime opportunity to grow as this area is made up of a pocket of air around your ear drum. Germs can get into this region of your ear and start to flourish and grow. As a result then, your ear might start producing a germ-filled fluid called pus that can cause irritation and pain if not treated.
For very young children who don’t understand the pressure caused by the buildup of fluid, they can become very agitated and quite often cry or scream because of the infection. If your child starts crying, and you find it difficult to find a reason, you might consider an ear infection as the cause. Speaking of causes, though, let’s now consider some of the most common causes of ear infections in children.
Common Causes of Ear Infections in Children
Another facet of looking at treating ear infections in children involves understanding common causes of the infection. While we might understand that the infection begins and grows due to germs, we also need to understand how the germs get there in the first place. Additionally, why are children so susceptible to getting infections, and what makes them less common in adults?
To begin with, most ear infections result from a blocking of a tube, called the Eustachian tube, which normally allows fluid to drain out of the ear to the throat. Additionally, the tubes, one for each ear, allow air to flow into the ears from the throat which helps to maintain constant pressure in your ear. Allergies, infections, or colds in the throat can cause this tube to swell and not allow the normal draining of fluid. Then, with the buildup of fluid in the ear, bacteria and viruses can quickly grow and cause an infection.
In newborn babies and young children, the Eustachian tubes are very immature and underdeveloped. Furthermore, the length of the tubes are much shorter than for teenagers and adults. These issues can allow for bacteria and viruses to travel much easier between the throat and ear. Additionally, as a result of the underdeveloped tubes, blockages can occur more easily, as well.
Many times, ear infections follow closely after a case of a cold or throat infection. Again, this happens as a result of cold bacteria migrating up the Eustachian tubes to either ear. Furthermore, simply the inflammation of the throat can cause a blockage in the tubes allowing for bacteria growth and infection in the ears.
Symptoms of Ear Infections in Children
Now that we understand some about the cause of ear infections, we should talk about the symptoms. After all, if you can’t recognize the symptoms of an ear infection, you can never get to the stage of treating ear infections in children.
To begin with, you can look for any number of symptoms or signs of ear infections. Since many ear infections follow closely behind colds, cold symptoms in general could point to an ear infection. A cold can cause the initial blockage which leads to the fluid buildup in the middle ear. The ear infection then comes as a result and the cold symptoms linger around longer as the infection in the ear takes over.
Other common symptoms of ear infections can include uncharacteristic fussiness at night or in the day, complaining of ear pain, or waking up more frequently at night. Furthermore, your child might also develop a low grade fever, though not always. They might also not want to lay flat or on their back. Finally, you might even see pus or blood leaking out of their ear.
Typically for parents trying to identify an infection at home, any two or more of the above symptoms gives a good indication of the presence of an infection. After identifying two or more symptoms, you should then reach out to your pediatrician about setting up an appointment. If the pain or symptoms worsen after hours or on the weekend, you might consider visiting an urgent care for treatment. Rarely, though, if ever, would you need to go to an emergency room for treatment of ear infection symptoms.
Ways to Help Prevent Ear Infections
A final important aspect to cover before we talk treating ear infections in children is the different ways to prevent infections. As we mentioned at the start, though, ear infections occur fairly regularly in most children so complete prevention might not be possible. Still, you can do some simple things to possibly help your chances of keeping the infections at bay.
If your child takes to breastfeeding well, you should try to stick to breastfeeding as long as possible. Many studies point to the benefits of breastfeeding in reducing ear infections. If feeding with a bottle, you can also feed your baby holding them upright. This also can help prevent infections by preventing milk from running down the Eustachian tubes into the ears.
If your child eats food, you should make sure they eat plenty of fruits and vegetables in their diet. Eating daily amounts of fruits and vegetables helps to bolster your young child’s immune system, which can help stave off a growing infection. Along with a healthy diet, you also may try to regularly clean out your baby’s nose. If they have a cold, make sure you suction their nose as often as possible. This proactive behavior keeps germs from migrating via the Eustachian tube to the ears.
Finally, you can also help to prevent ear infections by controlling your baby’s environment. You need to limit your child’s exposure to cigarette smoke as much as possible. Cigarette smoke can cause irritation to a young child’s throat and nasal passages and lead to issues with the Eustachian tubes. Furthermore, keep in mind your child’s allergies. If you know your child has a specific allergy, make sure you limit contact with that allergen. Allergic reactions can increase the chances of infections forming in the ears.
Best Practices for Treating Ear Infections in Children
Now that we have covered all of our bases, we need to talk specifically about treating ear infections in children. Again, if you see two or more possible symptoms of an ear infection, you should consult with your child’s pediatrician on the next best steps. Oftentimes, your child’s pediatrician might encourage you to come in for a check-up. Still, though, you can do several things at home to help your child feel better and slowly improve.
While waiting to see the doctor, you can possibly use acetaminophen at home. You’ll want to closely follow your doctor’s advice or the dosage listing for the medication. If using it, though, it may help to alleviate some of the pressure and pain from the infection.
Additionally, you can try applying a warm compress to the affected ear. This can also help reduce some of the pain. An additional step might involve even adding a drop or two of warm olive or vegetable oil to the ear, or using prescription ear drops.
Furthermore, your pediatrician may prescribe antibiotics as a treatment for ear infections. Most antibiotics come in a seven-day course of pills. If using antibiotics, you’ll want to follow your doctor’s instructions and use all of the antibiotics even after symptoms subside. Most of the time, your doctor might prescribe amoxicillin to start with. If this fails to reduce symptoms, you might talk to your doctor about prescribing a stronger antibiotic.
Some children contract ear infections much more often than other kids their age. For children who develop repeated cases of ear infections, you might talk with your doctor about surgically implanted ear tubes. This procedure can help open up air flow to the middle ear, thereby reducing the chances of further infections developing.
Covering All Your Bases for Treating Ear Infections in Children
Our goal with this article was to cover everything you need to know about ear infections from how they develop to how you can effectively treat them. While ear infections in children can create problems for both child and parent, they don’t have to ruin your day or week. You can both take preventative steps to stop them from developing as well as try home remedies to limit the impact of the symptoms.
We hope this article provides you some basic tools for knowing what to do next time you suspect an ear infection. As always, you should consult with and use your pediatrician as a helpful aid in finding the most effective treatment. Through working with your pediatrician, hopefully you can identify long term strategies that help limit ear infections from ever coming back again. Use the tips, strategies, and information covered here to cover all your bases for treating ear infections in children, and help make them a thing of the past in your household.