Kids can get a lot of ear infections. They can be painful, uncomfortable and are especially common during cold and flu season.
An ear infection is inflammation of the middle ear, usually caused by a virus or bacteria, and happens when fluid builds up behind the eardrum and becomes infected. A child’s ears don’t drain like an adult’s ears, so kids are more likely to get an inner ear infection. In fact, one of the most common reasons parents bring their children to see me is for an ear infection.
Symptoms of an ear infection
Ear pain is usually the first sign of an infection, especially if your child is just getting over a cold. Other symptoms may include:
- Swelling, heat or tenderness around or behind the ear
- Redness of the ear, ear canal, or skin around or behind the ear
- Drainage from the ear that doesn’t look like earwax
- Itching of the ear or ear canal
- Trouble hearing or responding to quiet sounds
- Fever (especially in babies and younger children)
- Clumsiness or problems with balance
- Fussiness and crying
- Trouble sleeping
Ear infections in babies and young children
It may be hard to recognize an ear infection in a baby or child who is too young to tell you how he or she feels. You can watch for things like:
- Tugging or pulling on the ears
- Decreased appetite
- Trouble sleeping
A baby also may push the bottle away because the pressure in his or her ears makes it hurt to swallow.
I think my child has an ear infection, now what?
If you think your child has an ear infection, contact your pediatrician for an appointment. Ear infections sometimes go away without medication, but your doctor will know the best approach to treating the infection. There also are things you can do to treat your child’s pain. A warm washcloth applied to the outside of the ear can be soothing, and non-prescription painkillers and fever reducers, like ibuprofen or acetaminophen, may help.
- Jennifer Schreiber, MD, pediatrician, Pediatric Consultants of Wisconsin