Did you know that after the common cold and cough, ear infections are the second most prevalent infections in babies? The National Institutes of Health says that ear infections are so common in toddlers that five out of six children have at least one ear infection by their third birthday.[1]

But before you visit the doctor or reach for those antibiotics, it is important for you to identify the cause of the ear infection to give your child the right treatment.

Ear Infection In Babies

Ear infections are mostly an inflammation of the middle ear (scientifically known as otitis media), which can be caused by the buildup of fluids behind the eardrum. This can be caused by a cold that leads to a swelling of the baby’s eustachian tube, which results in a buildup of fluid or mucus in the middle ear.

The moisture makes a perfect breeding ground for bacteria, resulting in an earache, fever, temporary hearing loss and other such symptoms.

Ear infections can be of two types in children:

  • Acute Otitis Media: The most common ear infection, here the middle ear gets infected and swollen and fluid gets trapped behind the eardrum. Common symptoms can be an earache, which will be accompanied by a fever and a swollen eardrum.
  • Otitis Media With Effusion: Sometimes fluid stays trapped behind the eardrum even after the pain and fever subside, resulting in otitis media with effusion.

What Are The Signs of an Ear Infection in Your Baby?

Watch out for the following sign(s) to see if your child has an ear infection.

  • Pulling The Ears: Your baby will be cranky and will cry often, constantly trying to pull (or rub) the ear that is infected.
  • Sleep Difficulties: Your baby will find it difficult to fall and stay asleep due to the excruciating pain and pressure buildup in the infected ear.
  • Difficulty In Hearing: Your baby will respond less to your coos and calls, which could be due to a temporary hearing loss caused by the ear infection. Do not panic as once the infection subsides, the hearing will return.
  • Loss Of Appetite: Another sign of an ear infection could be a sudden loss of appetite.
  • Fever: Your baby will have a slight fever, which could be a sign of the immune system working overtime to fend off the infection.
  • Discharge From The Ear: Though rare, some babies may have a white or green discharge from the ear, which could be a sign of eardrum rupture.

What Causes An Ear Infection In Babies?

While all ear infections should be shown to a doctor, sometimes they could be triggered by a cold. Ear pain in children, for that matter, could also be caused by a tooth infection. Here are other factors that can increase your baby’s risk of contracting an ear infection:

  • Allergies: Experts believe that children who are prone to allergies also have a tendency to contract an ear infection. Allergies cause an inflammation of the airways, which could sometimes lead to an ear infection.[2]
  • Day Care:  If your child goes to the daycare, he has a higher chance of getting an ear infection as he can easily catch an infection from other kids.
  • Being Bottle-Fed As Infants: Babies who are bottle-fed are at a higher risk of an ear infection than breastfed babies, as breastfeeding boosts the immune system. Also, as breastfed babies are fed in an upright position, they’re less likely to experience milk backing up through the eustachian tube into their ears.[3]
  • Pacifier/Dummy Use: Infants who use pacifiers are also at a higher risk as sucking increases the production of saliva, which can make bacteria travel up to the Eustachian tubes.[4]

Treatment for An Infection in Babies

  • The treatment for your baby’s ear infection will depend on the age and severity of the condition and, unless the infection is severe, the doctor will ask you to wait and watch as it mostly heals on its own.
  • If your baby is younger than six months or has a tendency to get ear infections often, the doctor may prescribe an antibiotic.

For more interesting stories, visit our Health page. Read more about Pregnancy & Babycare here.

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1. NIDCD. (2018). Ear Infections in Children. [online] Available at: http://www.nidcd.nih.gov/health/hearing/pages/earinfections.aspx [Accessed 24 Jan. 2018].

2 & 4. Nytimes.com. (2018). Well. [online] Available at: http://www.nytimes.com/health/guides/disease/otitis-media-with-effusion/print.html [Accessed 24 Jan. 2018]

3. Nytimes.com. (2018). Well. [online] Available at: http://www.nytimes.com/health/guides/disease/otitis-media-with-effusion/print.html [Accessed 24 Jan. 2018].

A pregnancy & babycare writer as well as wellness believer, Debolina is always trying to bring in health and wellness into her family’s, especially her kids’, lives. With a Master’s degree in English literature, she has worked with several mothercare and babycare brands. In her free time, she helps with campaigns that work towards promoting the health and well-being of women and babies. Her experiences as a mother help her talk about busy modern-day parenting and its changing trends.