Treating Middle Ear Infection in Babies

An indication that there’s something wrong with a baby’s ear is when the baby is fussier than usual and cries while pulling their ear. More often than not, an ear infection is to be blamed for this unexplained change in your baby’s mood.

In fact, according to the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders, 5 out of 6 children will have an ear infection before their 3rd birthday in the USA.[1]

Ear infections are some of the most commonly reported complaints at the pediatrician’s office, and they are not to be taken lightly. At this tender age, babies rely heavily on sounds and hearing in order to learn to speak.

Thus, prolonged periods of muffled hearing due to severe or recurrent ear infections can lead to delayed speech development and loss of hearing in babies.

Causes of Middle Ear Infection in Babies

Otitis media, commonly known as ear infection, is characterized by painful swelling and infection of the middle ear (located just behind the eardrum).[3]

  • An ear infection can be caused by bacteria or a virus. It happens when fluid builds up in the area behind your child’s eardrum and then the ear becomes infected.[5]
  • These infections often spring from a common cold or an allergic flare-up that causes the inflammation or blockage of the eustachian tube. Because this tube connects the middle ear to the back of the throat and nose, it is tasked with the responsibility of draining any fluids that enter this area. However, in the wake of a cold, sinus infection, or an allergy-induced tube blockage, the ear secretions get trapped behind the eardrum, causing pain and pressure. This is further compounded by the fact that children have shorter, narrower, and increasingly horizontal eustachian tubes than adults. Subsequently, this fluid retention further welcomes bacteria and viruses to flourish in the dark, warm, and moist confines of the middle ear, causing an infection.
  • Some other reasons for the eustachian tubes to become swollen or blocked are a sinus infection, excess mucus, infected or overgrown adenoids, and exposure to tobacco smoke.
  • Because babies have underdeveloped immune systems, they become easy targets for these infection-causing pathogens.
  • Using a pacifier may increase the risk of middle ear infections in babies and toddlers.[6]

Symptoms of Middle Ear Infection in Babies

Aside from pain, other common symptoms of an ear infection amongst babies are.[4]

  • Fever of 38 C (100.4 F) or above
  • Decrease in energy
  • Difficulty hearing
  • Pus-like discharge draining out of the child’s ear only with otitis externa or ruptured TM (tympanic membrane)
  • A feeling of pressure or fullness inside the ear
  • Unpleasant odor from the ear

Young children and infants with an ear infection may also:[4]

  • Rub or tug at their ear.
  • Be unresponsive to certain sounds.
  • Be unusually irritable or restless.
  • Have loss of appetite.
  • Have loss of balance; sometimes, an ear infection can also cause dizziness in babies, which can make them prone to falls and accidents.[4]

Risk Factors for Middle Ear Infection in Babies

Babies who are bottle-fed while lying on their back run the risk of milk entering the eustachian tube, causing inflammation. Some other risk factors for acute ear infections in babies include:[5]

  • Changes in altitude or climate.
  • A family history of ear infections.
  • Use of pacifier at an early age. Pacifier use should be stopped or limited after 6 months of age to reduce the risk of ear infection.
  • Children below the age of 5 as they have shorter eustachian tubes.
  • Children who attend daycare, because they are more susceptible to contracting common cold infections.
  • Children with active allergies.
  • Exposure to cigarette smoke can end up inflaming the eustachian tube, making ear infections more likely.
  • Children who were not breastfed tend to be bereft of certain antibodies that help fight infections.
  • Children with cleft palates usually have swollen eustachian tubes.

Preventive Tips

  • Breastfeed your baby for at least 6–12 months, because the mother’s milk is well endowed with disease-fighting antibodies.
  • Keep your baby away from secondhand smoke of any kind.
  • Offer your child fluids often as swallowing can help open the eustachian tube so the trapped fluid can drain.
  • If you bottle feed your baby, hold the infant in a semi-upright position so the formula doesn’t flow back into the eustachian tubes.
  • As soon as your baby reaches the age when he is capable of holding the bottle on his own, swap the bottle with a cup. Teach your baby to drink fluids from a regular cup, although not the “sippy cup.”
  • Avoid exposing your baby to situations where cold and flu bugs abound.
  • Make sure your child is up to date with vaccinations, including flu shots and pneumococcal vaccines.

When to See a Doctor

As soon as you suspect that your baby is suffering from an ear infection, book an appointment with your pediatrician. The doctor will take a closer look inside your child’s ear with an otoscope. The doctor will confirm if the discomfort is arising from an infection or some other condition. If the eardrum appears red or swollen or oozing with discharge, chances are it’s an infection.Advertisements

While the eardrum usually heals within a couple of weeks, in some cases, it can cause permanent damage to the child’s hearing.

It is important to consult with your doctor when you first notice signs of possible infection, to see if your child requires treatment.×280&!d&btvi=1&fsb=1&xpc=4H2hFiY04M&p=https%3A//

Occasionally, an acute middle ear infection without timely or appropriate treatment can spiral into graver concerns:

  • The eardrum might rupture on account of increased or unabated pressure, causing blood and fluid to drain out of the ear. According to the Children’s National Health System, approximately 5 percent to 10 percent of children with an ear infection will experience a ruptured eardrum.[7]
  • The adjoining bone around the ear might get infected.
  • Meningitis or infection of the tissue adjoining the brain is always a risk.
  • Recurrent infections can lead to the formation of abnormal skin-like tissue, called a cholesteatoma, in the middle ear and possibly through the eardrum, causing irreparable hearing damage or deafness.

Treating Middle Ear Infection in Babies

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends pediatricians prescribe antibiotics for children 6 months of age and older with evidence of an ear infection with severe symptoms such as ear pain and fever. If symptoms are less severe, then observation may be warranted before the use of antibiotics.[8]

To treat an ear infection in babies under 6 months, most doctors prescribe antibiotics right away.Advertisements

To reduce the pain and prevent the infection from spreading, there are also some simple yet effective remedies that you can try.