How to handle a child’s first ear infection
One of the hardest challenges for new parents is managing their baby’s first illness. Many times, that first illness involves an ear infection.
Caused by inflammation in the middle ear, ear infections are typically identified by pain, especially when lying down. Other symptoms include headaches, fever, ear fluid drainage and difficulty hearing.
“Ear infections are more common in children because their immune systems are weak and the tubes in their ears are smaller, which prevents fluids from draining normally,” says Dr. Benjamin Gruber, an otolaryngologist (ENT) with Advocate Children’s Medical Group and on staff at Advocate Trinity Hospital in Chicago.
Although viruses don’t directly cause ear infections, according to Dr. Gruber, viral infections like influenza or the cold can create ideal conditions in the middle ear for the bacteria that causes ear infections to spread.
“While ear infections are common, most are not very serious and do not lead to chronic problems with the ear,” says Dr. Gruber. “However, if there is a history of ear conditions in the family, especially if a close relative has had ear surgery, then early consultation with an ENT is advisable.”
Risk factors for ear infections include daycare attendance, exposure to air pollution, allergies, obesity, exposure to secondhand smoke, drinking from a bottle while lying down and being younger than two years old.
Dr. Gruber recommends the following tips to reduce the likelihood of ear infections:
- Vaccinate children against the flu.
- Do not expose children to secondhand smoke.
- Breastfeed infants for at least the first six months.
In addition, too much time with a pacifier can increase the chances of a baby getting an ear infection, according to the National Institute of Deafness and Other Communicative Disorders. Pacifiers often bring bacteria into the mouth, which can then spread to the ear.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) advises that parents seek a health care professional to treat an ear infection if their child has any of the following symptoms:
- Temperature higher than 100.4 °F
- Discharge of blood or pus from the ears
- Symptoms that have not improved or have gotten worse after being diagnosed with an ear infection
If a child is younger than three months and has a fever, the CDC advises to call your baby’s pediatrician or another health care professional right away.
About the Author
health enews staff is a group of experienced writers from our Advocate Aurora Health sites, which also includes freelance or intern writers.