Ear Infections

Ear infections are one of the most common afflictions that babies and children suffer through. Research shows that five in six healthy children will experience an ear infection before turning three years old. Ear infections are an inflammation of the middle ear, usually caused by bacteria, and occur when fluid builds up behind the eardrum. Though anyone can get an ear infection, children are more likely than adults to get them.

There are many tell-tale signs that your child is suffering an ear infection, even if he doesn’t know what it is or how to show it. Many ear infections happen before children have learned how to talk, so if they cannot say “my ear hurts”, then look for the signs. Tugging or pulling at the ear or ears, fussiness, excessive crying, difficulty sleeping, fever, fluid draining from the ear, clumsiness or problems with internal balance, and trouble hearing or responding to quiet sounds can all point towards an ear infection.

Ear infections often begin after a child has had a cold or upper respiratory infection. After a cold, fluid can build up behind the ear drum and result in an infection.

The middle ear is located between the eardrum and the inner ear where three tiny bones called the malleus, incus, and stapes transmit sound vibrations from the eardrum to the inner ear. This portion of the ear is connected to the upper part of the throat via a passage called the eustachian tube. Children often suffer ear infections, because their eustachian tubes are smaller than adults. This makes it difficult to drain fluid out of the ear, even under normal circumstances. If the eustachian tube becomes swollen or blocked with mucus, fluid may not be able to drain which can lead to pain and discomfort.

Babies under six months old often receive antibiotics when they have an ear infection. At this age, children are not fully vaccinated and complications from ear infections can be more severe when they occur in young babies. Bacteria trapped behind the eardrum can spread and cause serious problematic infections. Between six months and two years, parents and the Goldsboro Pediatrics provider should strategize together on whether or not to treat infections. The best course of action is to watch and wait before prescribing antibiotic treatment. If the child is in pain or the infection becomes severe, immediate antibiotic treatment may be necessary. Children two years old and older often resolve less severe ear infections on their own without treatment. For children who suffer recurring ear infections, up to five or six annually, your pediatrician may recommend a surgical procedure to insert small tubes in the eardrums that improve airflow and prevent buildup.

There are many ways to prevent the risk of infection in children. Up-to-date vaccination prevents infections that children would otherwise be susceptible to. Breastfeeding as a baby helps to prevent ear infections because breast milk contains antibodies that help to build the immune system. Teaching your child to keep clean hands, washing them with soap and water before scrubbing them clean for a full twenty seconds, is important to reduce the spread of germs and bacteria. Exposure to second-hand smoke also increases the likelihood of developing ear infections, so limiting second hand smoke intake is key. Lastly, keeping your child away from sick children limits the spread of bacteria, which reduces the likelihood of infection.

National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders
Johns Hopkins Medicine

Back to Archives