Infant Ear Infection – Early Signs & Symptoms

An Infant ear infection is the second most common childhood illness after the cold. By three years of age, five out of six children will have had an ear infection [1].  That is 80% of children [2].

A middle infant ear infection (otitis media) can occur when there is a buildup of fluid in the middle ear. Bacteria or a virus can cause the build-up of fluid [3].  Sometimes it happens on its own, and sometimes it disappears on its own.

Ear infections that occur in the ear canal are known as swimmer’s ear [4]. This happens when the outer ear canal becomes infected. The condition usually develops when the child has too much water exposure. Swimmer’s ear is usually bacterial, but fungal infections also occur.

When children experience chronic ear infections, they are at risk of developing hearing loss or speech delays. In severe cases, your child’s pediatrician may suggest the insertion of tubes. Ear tubes allow the eardrum to equalize pressure.

Most infant ear infection symptoms involve the middle ear and are caused by congestion from colds.

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The following can also increase the risk of infection among children:

  • Exposure to cigarette smoke
  • Poor or compromised immune system
  • Familial history of ear infections
  • Baby is in daycare
  • Baby was not breastfed

Younger children have a harder time telling parents what hurts. It can be difficult to recognize pain in your child’s ears.

Signs of an Infant Ear Infection

#7 – Pulling and Tugging

Pulling and Tugging

If your baby is pulling on the ears or tugging the earlobes, it can be a sign of pain and thus an ear infection.

Babies may grab their ears for other reasons, so look for corresponding symptoms before diagnosing an ear infection.

#6 – Loss of Appetite

Infant Ear Infection Loss Of Appetite

Your baby’s ears may hurt when sucking or swallowing, so nursing or feeding can be a painful experience.

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#5 – A Runny Nose

Infant Ear Infection Running Nose

Most middle ear infections are complications caused by congestion from a cold. A runny nose can be a sign of an impending ear infection in an infant.

#4 – Fussiness

Infant Ear Infection Fussiness

Your child may be fussy mainly because of the pain. Expect crying and irritability when your baby has an ear infection.

#3 – Difficulty Sleeping

Infant Ear Infection Trouble Sleeping

An ear infection can be even more painful when your baby is lying down. Babies may wake more often during their sleep cycles because of pain or discomfort.

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#2 – Fever

Infant Ear Infection Fever

Infant fevers are sure signs that an infection is present. If an ear infection is accompanied by symptoms of fever, it is a sign of Otitis Media.

#1 – Discharge

Is Infant Ear Infection Discharge Normal

One of the most conclusive signs of an infant ear infection is yellowish or whitish ear discharge.

This is not a very common symptom, but it is also indicative of an ear infection. Another sign of infection is if your baby’s ear smells.

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Infant Ear Infection Prevention Methods

Infant Ear Infection Prevention

Do not allow your child to lie down with a bottle. The liquid can pool inside the eustachian tube which encourages bacterial growth.

Other preventative measures including limiting exposure to your baby from other children with colds or upper respiratory infections. And when possible, do not allow infants and toddlers to share toys that they may put in their mouths.

Infant Ear Infection Treatment

Infant Ear Infection Treatment

Antibiotics are no longer prescribed as often as they were a decade ago. A third of middle ear infections are caused by viruses which are not treatable by antibiotics.

Most healthcare professionals recommend a watchful “wait and see” approach as most ear infections clear up within a week. Your doctor may recommend a delayed prescription wherein you may administer the prescription if the infection does not resolve.

At home, you can give your baby a warm compress. Place a warm, moist (not drenched) washcloth over your baby’s ear for 10 to 15 minutes to help ease the pain.

Infant acetaminophen can alleviate pain for babies who are older than six months. Consult your doctor before giving your baby any medication.

Keep your baby well hydrated. Swallowing can help the eustachian tube to open and drain the trapped fluid in the ear.

Though parents may have to play detective when it comes to babies, it’s worth knowing the signs as it can help with early diagnosis of an ear infection.

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Infant Ear Infection Reference;

[1]   US National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health; Epidemiology of otitis media during the first seven years of life in children in greater Boston: a prospective, cohort study, Teele DW, Klein JO, Rosner B, July 1989.
[2]   Children’s National Health System; Pediatric Otitis Media (Middle Ear Infection).
[3]   Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; Ear Infection, December 7, 2017.
[4]   Medicine Net; Medical Definition of Swimmer’s ear, September 09, 2016.
[5]   Medicine Net; Ear Tubes (Myringotomy & Tympanostomy Tubes), John P. Cunha, DO, FACOEP.

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