Your toddler is tugging at their ear and acting extra fussy. Could it be an ear infection?
Ear infections are one of the most common reasons parents bring their child to the doctor. In fact, five out of six kids will experience at least one ear infection by their third birthday. The condition, also known as acute otitis media, is an inflammation of the middle ear that occurs when fluid builds up behind the eardrum and becomes infected by bacteria or a virus. Since your child may not yet have the language skills to communicate their pain, it’s important to learn the signs and symptoms of an ear infection, and when it’s time to see a medical provider.
Signs and Symptoms
- tugging or pulling at the ear(s)
- ear pain that’s worse when lying down
- irritable or fussier than usual
- crying more than usual
- difficulty hearing and/or failing to respond to sounds
- difficulty balancing
- drainage from the ear
- Fever (100 F or higher)
- difficulty sleeping
- loss of appetite
These symptoms can indicate a number of conditions, so it’s important to get an accurate diagnosis and proper treatment from a medical provider.
When To See A Doctor
Call your child’s doctor, or head right into our clinic if:
- symptoms last for more than a day
- ear pain is severe
- your child is sleepless or irritable after a cold or upper respiratory infection
- you observe a discharge of fluid, pus or blood from the ear
To diagnose ear pain, our provider will review your child’s symptoms, perform a physical exam, and use a lighted instrument, called an otoscope, to view the eardrum. The provider may also use a pneumatic otoscope to check for fluid behind the eardrum.
If symptoms indicate a bacterial infection, we may prescribe a course of antibiotics. Other times, it’s best to simply monitor the situation and focus on symptom management. Some earaches are not caused by bacterial infection, and will get better on their own with 1-2 days. In fact, as many as 30% of acute otitis media cases are due to a viral infection which do not respond to antibiotics. But one should also keep in mind a viral infection oftentimes predisposes children to a secondary bacterial infection. Another risk factor for ear infections is an allergy to dairy. It may be helpful to eliminate dairy for a short period of time while you and your physician determine if this could be a contributing factor. Ear drops and over-the-counter pain relievers such as acetaminophen and ibuprofen can reduce fever and ease pain. There are even natural ear drop formulas that contain herbs, such as, garlic and St. John’s Wort, that are fantastic at relieving pain. Additional support may include immune-boosting nutrients, such as, vitamins A, C, D, and zinc, and hydrotherapy. Hydrotherapy is performed by applying alternating hot and cold compresses to the affected ear for pain relief and to promote enhanced immune activity and circulation to the area.