When your baby or toddler starts tugging at their ear it is easy to assume they have an ear infection. However, he could do the same thing if he is teething.
So how do you know it is an ear infection, and not those pesky teeth growing through?
Keep reading to find out more about the sure signs and causes of an ear infection. It will be helpful at 2am when you are pulling you hair out with frustration at an unsettled baby and want to know why!
Why are they so common in babies?
Ear infections can be quite common in children under 2 because their immune system is still immature and they have narrow and horizontal Eustachian tubes.
I can hear you ask, what the heck is an Eustachian tube?
Simply put, it is the passageway that drains normal fluid from the middle ear to the back of the throat and helps to equalize pressure. As babies and toddlers eustachian tube is narrower and more horizontal this fluid can be easily trapped behind the eardrum. This creates a moist environment, ideal for viruses and bacteria to grow and wreak havoc!
Because these tubes are shorter in babies it is easier for those germs from a grotty nose or throat to travel to their ears and make them sick.
This is why ear infections are so common in babies. Shorter, narrower Eustachian tubes that lead to fluid and germs in the ear.
What causes ear infections?
Either a virus or the presence of bacteria generally causes ear infections.
Ear infections commonly follow colds, sinus infections or allergies such as hay-fever. The Eustachian tube becomes swollen and blocked, thereby trapping fluid in the ear and creating the perfect breeding ground for those nasty germs.
So how do you spot an ear infection?
Now that we know what causes an ear infection, it is important to know how to tell if your baby may be suffering from one.
Naturally, there is the very obvious sign of baby pulling, grabbing or tugging at their ear. Tugging at their ear alone is not a sign of ear infection as there are so many reasons for them to be playing with their ear. If this is the only symptom and your baby seems to be fine otherwise then it is most likely NOT an ear infection. Big sigh of relief!
However, if baby is tugging at their ear and has any of the following symptoms it may be an ear infection:
- Cold symptoms – runny nose, gunky eyes.
- Reduced appetite.
- Discolored discharge from the ear.
- Unpleasant smell from the ear.
- Difficulty sleeping.
- Irritable and grizzly, especially when lying down.
- Appears to not be hearing well.
Are there complications of ear infections?
Like with any infection your baby can become dehydrated and quite ill. However, ear infections are generally easy to treat and heal with time.
The two main complications of ear infections are:
This happens occasionally where the eardrum ruptures. It sounds nasty, but it does heal naturally and does not usually cause long term issues.
If there is a thick and sometimes bloody discharge from your babies ear then it may be that their eardrum is perforated. It helps to relieve the pressure from all the gunk and fluid from the infection, and you may find that it actually helps your babies pain. A visit to the doctor will confirm if it is perforated, and they can guide you with what to do.
Glue ear is caused by recurring ear infections causing a thick, glue-like gunk to build up in the middle ear.
It can lead to various degrees of hearing loss which has its own complications such as delayed speech and behavior difficulties.
What is the treatment for an ear infection?
To begin with you need to take your baby to the doctors to confirm that it is an ear infection, and not something else. For the most part, ear infections will clear up on their own with time and rest.
If your baby suffers from recurring ear infections, or one that simply wont go away then your doctor may suggest surgery to insert grommets.
Put simply, grommets are tubes inserted into your babys ear to act like an artificial Eustachian tube. If you recall an Eustachian tube is responsible for draining away fluid from the ear. So this artificial tube will help to reduce the fluid and bacteria build up.
Medications for ear infections.
If your baby is ill enough or the ear infection severe your doctor may prescribe antibiotics. However the usual approach is to wait and see, to give your babies body time to fight of the infection themselves without risking antibiotic treatment.
If your baby is old enough then you can give them pain relieving medications such as Paracetamol or Ibuprofen.
Other “natural” things you can do to help your baby.
It is hard to be told by your doctor to just “wait and see”, to give your baby a few days and they will start to get better. They are not the ones suffering sleep deprivation, arms tired from carrying a grizzly baby or having their hearts break listening to your baby in pain.
You may feel useless, but there are many things you can do to help your baby feel better whilst recovering from an ear infection.
You can try a warm compress. Place a warm, moist compress over your babies ear for 10 to 15 minutes throughout the day. It can help reduce pain and bring them comfort.
Keep your baby as hydrated as possible. Whether it is offering extra breast or bottle feeds, or a sippy cup if they are old enough. Keeping their fluids up is not only a great way to help them fight off the infection, but the act of swallowing can open up the Eustachian tube and help the trapped fluid drain away.
You can try elevate your babys head to help with fluid drainage and pain. Make sure you do your research first for safe guidelines on how to do this.
And my personal favorite, lots of cuddles! They will be clingy and grizzly so why not throw a binge worthy tv show on Netflix and resign yourself to spending the next few days on the couch with baby.
Stay up-to-date through each merry milestone with new content, product discounts, giveaways* and access to our free resources filled with valuable printables.
*Past giveaways have included a new Britax B-Agile Stroller, a North States 8-panel Superyard Playard and several Amazon gift cards.