Ear Infections in Children - Causes, Symptoms and Treatment
Health Education

Managing Ear Infections in Children

Dr.Surya Rao Poodipeddi profile Authored by Dr.Surya Rao Poodipeddi on 17 Oct 2014 - 09:48.

Ear infection is also known as acute otitis media. Acute means sudden and otitis means relating to ear and media means middle ear.

A child is not immune from such troublesome ear infections. In fact they are more common in childhood. It is important to suspect its presence in your baby so that you can take speedy action to prevent long-term damage to the hearing mechanism of the child.

The easiest way to tell if your baby has ear infection or any other illness for that fact is a sudden change in his/her mood. If a normal and playful child suddenly becomes fussy or crying more than usual it should draw the mother’s attention that there is some problem somewhere. If this is accompanied by fever it gives an added clue to your thinking. 

Usually ear infections strike after an attack of common cold or sinus infection.

Ear infections result when fluid and bacteria find their way into the area around the baby’s eardrum. Normally any fluid that enters this area finds its way through the Eustachian tube (A tube that connects the middle ear and the back of the nose and throat) when the baby yawns or swallows.

However, if the tube is blocked as it happens with colds, sinus infections and allergic reactions, the fluid is trapped in the middle ear, making it an ideal breeding ground for bacteria to grow in an environment that is dark, warm and wet.

As the infection worsens it leads to a swollen area around the eardrum-giving rise to severe pain in the ear. The natural immune process in the child tries to fight with the infection-giving rise to fever and discomfort.

You may also notice the following symptoms:

  • Your baby may pull the ears or even grab them. This shouldindicate that there is some pain in the ear(s). Only pulling the ears need not point out an ear infection unless accompaniedby other symptoms since they may pull the ears just like that.

  • Presence of diarrhea should lead your suspicions about ear infections

  • because the virus that causes ear infections may also cause gastrointestinal problems like diarrhea and vomiting.

  • Ear infections coupled with fever reduce the appetite in a child. If the child refuses feeds or suddenly pulls away from the breast or bottle during feeds after taking few drops, it is possible he has ear infection.

  • Though not a very common occurrence a yellow or white fluid draining from the ear is a sure indication of acute ear infection. This may be an indication that the thin membrane deep inside called the eardrum has ruptured. Even if it is so there is no need to worry because it heels on its own when once the infection is under control.

  • A foul odor from the ear is a certain indication of an existing or impending ear infection.

Remember to call the doctor at the first sign of ear infection. The doctor examines the ears with an instrument called otoscope to determine whether there is swelling around the drum or a rupture in the drum. He will also watch for the movements of the drum with a special ear instrument through which he passes some air. If there is no movement of the drum it indicates that fluid is collecting in the middle ear, which might lead to infection.

Though it has been found out that most of the ear infections clear up on their own it is always better to err on the side of caution and start an antibiotic just to prevent avoidable complications like hearing loss. It is however essential to complete the full course of an antibiotic when prescribed by a doctor.If there is no response to an antibiotic the child may need a repeat examination and also a change in the antibiotic.

Babies who attend daycare or playgroups are more prone to infections because of exposure to more germs. Ear infection is no exception. This doesn’t mean that you will not send your child to day care or playgroups. Even otherwise, the child is always vulnerable for ear infections.

The following steps might improve to keep infections at a distance:

  • Always keep your baby up-to-date on the vaccination schedules. It is heartening to know that Hib vaccine has helped tremendously in keeping ear infections at its minimum. The new pneumococcal vaccine is showing great promise in reducing the incidence of ear infections.

  • If your child gets repeated episodes of ear infections especially after a bout of flue you can consider a shot of annual flu vaccine. However, only children over 6 months old can be given a flu shot.

  • Scientific studies have clearly indicated that breast fed children at least for the first six months have lesser incidence of ear infections than those fed on bottles. Obviously try to maintain your kids on breast milk. The possible explanation could be that mothers pass on immune-building antibodies to the baby through the breast milk. These antibodies however, start decreasing after six months of age.

Tobacco smoke seems to suppress the immune system. Therefore keep your child from exposure to passive smoking in the house.

Chronic cases of ear infections in older babies might need a surgical procedure called tympanostomy to prevent hearing loss.

Sometimes ear infections can turn dangerous. A severe untreated ear infection or inadequately treated cases can rupture your child’s eardrum. In very rare cases an untreated ear infection might lead to infection of the skull behind the ear (mastoiditis) or meningitis (Inflammation of the coverings of the brain).

It is therefore important to be cautious to detect ear infections as early as possible and when detected, to consult your doctor for prompt treatment. Else, for no fault of the child he or she may end up with any of these complications.

*Disclaimer This is not medical advice. The content is for educational purposes only. Please contact your doctor for any health care issues.