Ouch. Cranky babies and toddlers are the worst, and an ear infection can make even the most laid-back child turn into a monster! The worst part is that we know earaches can hurt and no one wants to watch their baby have to feel pain.
First, here’s a little bit of background on ear problems.
They’re called ear infections because the name acute otitis media is too long to bother with. In short, they happen when bacteria and fluids get trapped in the ear canal near your child’s eardrum.
Our ear canals are much longer than a baby’s, so it doesn’t take much for the build-up of fluid to reach the middle ear. That’s why we have fewer ear problems as kids. Most kids will suffer an ear problem at least once by the time they are about 3 years old. Toddlers are the most afflicted.
Colds and sinus troubles are usually the “trigger” that set an ear aliment into motion. The mucus and fluids that accompany these ailments always seem to find their way into the ear canals…After all those tiny tubes are very close to the nose and throat in a little person.
Diagnosing ear infections in babies and toddlers
It takes a doctor or other medical professional to properly diagnose an ear aliment, but there are some signs of baby ear infection that can tell you that you’re likely dealing with one.
Babies can’t talk, but a toddler who complains of ear pain or pain “back in my throat but up higher” is almost certainly experiencing the pain of being infected with ear diseases. A baby who feels this pain might tug at their ear or keep their ear pressed against their pillow or other object. They seem to know that warmth can help.
- Fluid and Odor
An obvious sign of ear infirmity is less common, but almost a sure thing… clear yellow or white fluid coming from the ear. A bad smell usually accompanies this sign, and it means that the eardrum has ruptured, leaking fluid. It will heal, though so there is no reason to panic.
- Other Illness
Since the cause of babies’ suffering ear sicknesses is bacterial, there might be other parts of a child’s system affected as well. They might have tummy trouble, including throwing up and diarrhea.
- Eating and Sleeping
Other symptoms include a loss of appetite, because chewing and swallowing can hurt. Your little one might also seem to have an aversion to lying down and making sleep tough…being horizontal can make the pain worse.
You might also notice that your little one has trouble hearing; they’re listening to sounds through fluid which muffles noise. Your child might also have some difficulty with balance; an inner ear illness can affect anyone’s equilibrium.
Preventing an Ear Infection
There are several steps you can take to help ward off ear illnesses. Even though they are common, you should try to do what you can to avoid them.
Breastfeeding is the absolute best thing you can feed your baby for a number of reasons, and one of those is that it’s a proven ear-infection-deterrent! Breastfed babies grow into toddlers with fewer ear illnesses.
When you feed your baby, whether at the breast or with a bottle, you should keep them in as much of an upright position as possible. Allowing your baby to eat while lying down can cause fluid to drain back into the ear canal.
- Vitamin C
Be sure to offer your child plenty of fruits, veggies, and fruit juice rich in Vitamin C. It is a natural immune booster and a healthy immune system can fight off sickness better than a weak one.
- Avoid Crowds
If you take your baby to daycare, a smaller one is best. Home-based babysitters typically have fewer kids…fewer kids means fewer germs. Don’t let your child eat or drink after other kids, and be diligent about hand washing.
- Beware of Allergies
Sometimes allergic reactions can cause recurring ear sickness. If you aren’t sure what your baby is allergic to, or even if there is an allergy, you should go to the pediatrician to check. If you know what your child is allergic to, you can help him or her avoid the triggers.
- Clear Their Nose
If your child has a cold, make sure he or she doesn’t spend the day stuffy. Toddlers and babies who can’t yet blow their nose will need help from you. Use a bulb syringe or some saline nose drops to clear their nasal passages so that the fluid doesn’t build up and get in their ears.
- Avoid Smoke
Keep your child away from smoke, as secondhand smoke can worsen ear diseases.
- Medical Treatments
Depending on how frequent your child comes down with an ear infirmity, your pediatrician might decide to treat them individually or take long term measures to prevent them.
If your little one has four or more infirmities each year, or if they are having delays in speech or hearing loss because of chronic ear infections, the doctor will probably intervene.
For the occasional ear aliments that isn’t part of a chronic problem, most pediatricians don’t take medical steps to treat them. It is usually ideal for it to run its course, while you just take action to help with pain and discomfort. Taking antibiotics too often or for too long can cause them not to work as effectively when they’re really needed.
For chronic cases, some doctors will prescribe a low-dose antibiotic over several months, preventing the problem from recurring.
There is an immunization called Prevnar that can help prevent some ear illnesses, but they’re only effective on some, some of the time. They are usually only recommended for those children whose ear aliments aren’t affected by normal antibiotics.
- Ear Tubes
For chronic ear infections that don’t respond to other treatments, and pose a risk to hearing and speech, most doctors recommend ear tubes. These are surgically implanted under general anesthesia, and help drain fluid away from the ear drum. Most of the time, they are left in place for several months to over a year.