What All Parents Should Know About Ear Infections

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ear infection in kid

Is there anything worse than not being able to help your child when they don’t feel well? Ear infections can make even the most mild-tempered child inconsolable. 

At Twin Cities Kids Club, we care about your kids. Whether fighting a cold or virus, trying to eat healthy, or finding fun things to do outside, we have some tips and tricks to help. Join the club today for access to discounts and events throughout Minneapolis and St. Paul.

Let’s discuss what happens when your child has an ear infection.

ear infection in kids

Is That An Ear Infection? 

Your baby is fussy. It’s not her usual level of fussiness. She’s pulling on her ear. She won’t eat. She’s not sleeping well. 

How do you know if it’s an ear infection causing your child’s distress? 

Ear infections are common in 1-3-year olds. So is teething, which can have similar symptoms to an ear infection. 

Some common symptoms include:

  • Pain. Pain is a hard symptom to nail down if your child hasn’t mastered speech yet. You know they have pain, but knowing where the pain is coming from can be a challenge. If your child is old enough to communicate with you about their pain, this is easier to figure out.
  • Tugging at their ears. If they don’t have speech, it’s tough to know whether this is a case of “I have pain in my ear,” or if they’re responding to pain in their gums. 
  • Fussiness. If you were hurting and didn’t know why, you’d be grouchy, too. 

Ear infections will usually cause some symptoms that don’t happen with ear infections. Symptoms that are unlikely to be caused by teething include:

  • Ear discharge
  • Thick nasal discharge. It is not uncommon to have a cold or another virus, along with an ear infection. 
  • Fever of 100℉ or higher
  • Dizziness or loss of balance
  • Trouble hearing

ear infection in kids

I’m Pretty Sure This Is An Ear Infection. Now What?

For the most part, ear infections aren’t emergencies. You’ll want your healthcare provider to see them, but it’s okay to wait until morning. 

You can try giving ibuprofen to make them more comfortable. Avoid giving your child aspirin, as it has been linked to Reye’s syndrome, a rare but potentially serious condition that can affect the brain and liver.

A warm pack on the ear or jaw can also be soothing. Fill a sock with 1 cup of rice. Fold the end over to keep the rice from spilling out. Heat it in the microwave for 1-2 minutes. 

The rice will stay warm for 15-20 minutes. Make sure to check the temperature before applying it to your child.

You can also try non-prescription ear drops to relieve the pain. These numbing drops can soothe and reduce swelling in the ear canal (the narrow part of the ear between what you see on the outside and the eardrum.) They don’t fight an infection, but they might make it more tolerable until your child’s body is healthy again. 

Read the directions carefully before using these, and do not use them if your child already has ear tubes. These are also not a good choice if your child’s eardrum has ruptured.

Some children experience relief by sucking on a pacifier or popsicle. Sucking can help to open the eustachian tube. Eustachian tubes connect the middle ear to the throat and equalize pressure behind the eardrum when things are working normally.

What Will My Doctor Do To Help?

Your doctor will be able to identify an ear infection by looking into the ear. When there’s an infection, fluid builds up behind the eardrum. The eardrum looks red and swollen.

Your doctor decides that your child’s middle ear is infected. Unfortunately, the cause of the infection is not so easy to figure out. Ear infections can be caused by both viruses and bacteria. If your child’s infection is caused by a virus, a prescription for antibiotics will not help them, because antibiotics only affect bacteria.

Doctors used to prescribe antibiotics for all ear infections, with the thought that it would be helpful for the infections caused by bacteria, and, while it wouldn’t be helpful if the infection was viral, it wouldn’t hurt, either.

Doctors have since learned that prescribing unnecessary antibiotics has led to the evolution of hardier bacteria. Weaker bacteria were killed by the prescriptions. The stronger bacteria that was left reproduced more. The result is that we have a greater chance of running into a strain of bacteria that won’t respond to antibiotics.

To curb this problem, doctors have gotten more careful about prescribing antibiotics that might not be necessary. 

Your physician may choose to wait 48 hours before adding a prescription, or they may write you a prescription but suggest you wait a couple of days before filling it. Most ear infections improve without medication within a few days. If your child has a fever over 102.2℉, your physician may suggest starting antibiotics right away.

ear infection in kids

If It Will Go Away On Its Own, Do I Really Need To Take My Child To The Doctor?

It is true that most ear infections get better without intervention. It’s also true that your doctor won’t have a useful medicine to prescribe if your child’s infection is viral. 

Your healthcare provider can see into the places you can’t, though, unless you happen to have an otoscope at home. They may diagnose a ruptured eardrum (which isn’t as scary is it sounds), or other complications. 

Does My Child Need Ear Tubes?

Your doctor might suggest having tubes placed in the ears if your child gets ear infections frequently. If your child has had four infections in the last six months, or six within the last year, they would likely benefit from this procedure.

A pressure equalization (PE) tube is a tiny, hollow cylinder that a surgeon inserts through the eardrum. The tube equalizes pressure in the middle ear by allowing air and fluid to pass through. 

The procedure only takes a few minutes, and your child will probably be sent home the same day. Tubes usually last 6-12 months and then fall out on their own. Once the tubes have fallen out, the eardrum will heal without any additional surgery.

It’s a good idea to have your child examined if they aren’t feeling well. Your healthcare provider can make sure your child gets the best and most appropriate care.

When your child feels better, make sure to take them out to enjoy all the Twin Cities have to offer. Use your Twin Cities Kids Club card to get discounts on trips to museums, camps, classes, and more.

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