If your baby gets fussy, is crying more than usual, or develops a fever, you should be on the lookout for an ear infection. Ear infections are very common. They occur in almost all children before age 3, and are usually caused by bacteria or a virus. During an ear infection, the tube that connects to a baby’s middle ear does not allow fluid to drain, which increases pressure behind the eardrum and causes the baby pain. Babies are especially susceptible to ear infections because they have short tubes that do not allow fluid to drain easily, so the ear becomes a breeding grounds for bacteria.
What contributes to earaches?
There are many different factors that contribute to earaches, and even the most careful of parents can’t always prevent them, but there are a few conditions that can make earaches more likely.
- Exposure to smoke: Tobacco smoke acts as an immunosuppressant, forcing babies’ bodies to work harder to ward off any infections.
- Daycare attendance: Daycare facilities draw a lot of germs and bacteria that babies can pick up during the day, and illnesses can get passed around children who attend daycare together extremely fast.
- Use of a pacifier: Doctors aren’t entirely sure why pacifiers are linked to greater instances of ear infections, but if your baby suffers from frequent ear infections try cutting back on pacifier use.
What are the symptoms?
- Pulling or tugging on ears: Babies tell their caregivers about their pain through movements like this, which are thought to be an attempt to relieve the sense of pressure from the fluid built up in their ears.
- Diarrhea or vomiting: The same infection that forms in a baby’s ear can also infect her gastrointestinal tract, so be on the lookout for those signs. This can also lead to reduced appetite.
- Yellow or white fluid draining from ear: While this symptom does not appear in many babies with ear infections, when it shows up, it is a sure sign of an ear infection. You may also notice a strong and unpleasant odor coming from the baby’s ear.
How do I treat ear infections?
- Antibiotics: While most ear infections clear up on their own, your healthcare provider might prescribe antibiotics if the infection worsens. Doctors are becoming more reluctant to prescribe antibiotics to babies to prevent antibiotic-resistance.
- Ear drops and warm compresses: These can provide a natural way to help your baby feel better and increase recovery speed.
Can I prevent earaches?
- Breastfeeding: While it’s definitely not a certain way to prevent ear infections, and isn’t the only way to reduce the risk, many doctors believe that breast milk contains certain antibodies that help babies fight off all different types of illnesses.
- Wash your hands often: The less exposure your baby has to germs, the lower the chance that she will develop an ear infection. Make sure you wash up well before you give your baby a wet willy!
Most ear infections clear up within a week or two, but some can become chronic if untreated. If you think Baby has an ear infection, consult the doctor immediately.