Ear infections are extremely common in babies, toddlers, and kids of all ages. Some children will deal with frequent ear infections throughout childhood, while others may never acquire a single one. Read on to learn more about the symptoms, diagnosis, treatment, and prevention of ear infections in kids.
Symptoms of Ear Infections in Kids
It is especially important to know the signs of ear infections in babies and toddlers who can’t talk and are unable to tell you what is wrong. Common symptoms of ear infections in kids can include:
- Pulling at the ears
- Unexplained fussiness and crying (especially in infants)
- A discharge or foul smell coming from the ear
- Redness and pain
- Trouble sleeping
- Trouble with balance
- Trouble hearing and responding to verbal cues
Diagnosis of Ear Infections in Kids
An active ear infection can typically be diagnosed by your child’s doctor simply looking in your child’s ears with a lighted otoscope. This visual exam will inspect the eardrum for any signs of infection. A visual inspection, in combination with your description of your child’s symptoms, is typically enough to diagnose an ear infection.
Occasionally, other simple tests may be needed to measure the fluid or movement of the eardrum, including the use of a pneumatic otoscope or a tympanometry test. Further diagnostic measures may need to be taken by a specialist in the case of chronic or recurrent infections.
Treatment of Ear Infections in Kids
The first line of defense for ear infections is usually antibiotics, but they are not always necessary, nor should they always be the first response. Especially if your child is suffering from frequent ear infections, overuse of antibiotics can lead to resistant bacteria and may make treating future infections more difficult.
As an alternative, many doctors take a “wait and see” approach, treating any pain with over-the-counter medications such as ibuprofen or acetaminophen in the meantime. Home remedies for ear infections are an increasingly popular option for many families. These can include the use of hot or cold compresses, heating pads, OTC ear drops, and changing your child’s sleeping position to an upright one.
Work with your child’s practitioner to determine the proper course of action for your child’s age and level of infection.
Prevention of Ear Infections in Kids
Ear infections are most often caused by bacteria from an illness such as the common cold or other upper respiratory infections. These bacteria can spread to the middle ear and lead to inflammation and fluid buildup. Treating all common childhood illnesses promptly can help to prevent the development of ear infections, as can vaccinations. There is some evidence that breastfeeding can also help prevent frequent ear infections through increased antibodies.
Children who suffer from frequent ear infections may benefit from a procedure that places tubes into the eardrums to help prevent future infections and make them easier to manage.
If your child is currently experiencing the effects of an ear infection, or you want to discuss options for the prevention of recurrent infections, give us a call today to schedule an appointment with one of our board-certified pediatricians!