Ear infections in kids: Symptoms and how to treat them

Read all the pertinent info you need to know about ear infections in kids, what causes them and how to deal with them.

Statistics show that around 50% of infants have at least 1 ear infection before they turn 1 year old. In fact, young children and babies are more likely to get ear infections than adults. Why is that so? And what usually causes ear infections in kids?

  1. Babies and young children have narrower and shorter Eustachian tubes compared to older children and adults.
  2. Some young children's immune systems  are compromised by constant exposure to colds and other illnesses at daycares, shopping centers, etc.
  3. Allergies can indirectly lead to ear infections too.

What is an ear infection?

An ear infection occurs when fluid builds up around the eardrum and causes the middle ear to become inflamed or swollen. The fluid is the result of bacteria in the ear.

What causes an ear infection in kids?

Ear infections usually happen as a result of cold, sore throats and sinus infections. The bacteria from these ailments then travels to the inner ear, causing the inflammation and so on as mentioned above. Bacteria enters the ear through hand to ear contact, as well as through the mouth.

The adenoids, which are filled with immune system cells, usually work to trap bacteria that enters the body through your child’s mouth before it can get to the ear, but when this doesn’t happen, ear infections can develop.

ear infections in kids How do you know if your child has an ear infection? Image source: File photo

Symptoms of an ear infections in kids

Ear infections are painful, often very painful. A child suffering from an ear infection isn’t likely to be able to hide their symptoms, or even want to.

A child with an ear infection is usually desperate for relief. So if you notice any of the following symptoms, you need to take action ASAP!

NOTE: These symptoms are not in any particular order.

  1. Pulling and tugging on their ear or ears
  2. Holding one side of their head
  3. Cupping their ear with their hand to try to ease the throbbing sensation
  4. Trouble sleeping
  5. Fussiness or all-out crying
  6. Fever
  7. Imbalance and inability to walk without falling down
  8. Drainage coming from their ears
  9. Trouble hearing or responding
  10. Responding with ‘huh’ or ‘what’ to everything you say

How to treat an ear infection in kids

Mild ear infections (i.e. those with symptoms that don’t include drainage, fever, excessive crying or lasts more than a couple of days) can usually be treated successfully with children’s pain relievers and heat from a heating pad or warm washcloth. Ear drops can also be used as long as the child does not already have tubes in their ears.

For more serious ear infections, or for those that last longer than a day or two, a trip to the doctor is in order.

Once the doctor has assessed the situation, he will most likely prescribe an antibiotic such as amoxicillin. If this is the case, it is important that you complete the round of antibiotics for the infection to be completely removed from your child’s system.

How to help prevent ear infections from recurring

Once your child has been able to 'survive' his first ear infection, you'd want to make sure that it doesn't happen again. Unfortunately, ear infections are a common ailment in young children.

To help prevent them from being a regular occurrence, here are a few things you can do:

1. Don’t expose them to cigarette smoke. Studies prove time and again that children who are exposed to cigarette smoke are more prone to ear infections. NOTE: This includes smoking during pregnancy and being around cigarette smoke during pregnancy.

2. Limit a child’s exposure to other children who have colds, the flu or sinus infections. While sinus infections are not contagious, children are not the best at keeping their hands and fingers away from runny noses, which then touch toys and other commonly shared items.

3. Get your child a flu shot. The fewer illnesses your child has, the less chance there is of passing bacteria to the ear.

4. Teachyour children to wash their hands properly and often to help avoid the spread of infection.      

Has your child ever had an ear infection? How did you handle it? Let us know by leaving a comment below!