Help for Ear Infections

Ear infections are a common winter ailment and tend to occur more often in children than adults. Colds can spread easily among youngsters. Then ear infections are more likely to occur. Symptoms may pop up two to seven days after the start of a cold or upper respiratory infection.

What triggers ear infections?

Little girl getting an ear exam
Check for a middle-ear infection: children get them more than adults.

Inflammation and infection of the middle ear is the most common type of ear infection. Medically referred to as acute otitis media, a middle ear infection is typically short in duration, yet painful, and often seen in babies and young children. It occurs due to fluid buildup behind the eardrum when the Eustachian tube, which connects the middle of each ear to the back of the throat, becomes blocked. These passages are shorter and more horizontal in young children, making fluid drainage more difficult. Fluid trapped in the ear is an ideal place for bacteria to grow. Also, children’s immune systems aren’t entirely developed, making them more prone to infection.

Contributing factors to the development of ear infections include:

  • colds and sinus infections
  • allergies
  • mucus and saliva buildup during teething
  • infected adenoids
  • other irritants, including secondhand tobacco smoke

What to look for

Babies and young children may not be able to tell you they’re suffering from ear pain, so these key signs can help you identify an ear infection:

  • rubbing or tugging the ear
  • fever
  • irritability and more frequent crying
  • restless sleep
  • decreased appetite
  • clear fluid draining from the ear
Girl with washcloth over sore ear
Warm compress over ear helps with pain.

Many ear infections will heal without treatment; however, a visit to your child’s pediatrician can help to determine the severity of the infection and outline a treatment. Rather than over-prescribing antibiotics for ear infections, many doctors may first advise a watch-and-see approach along with a pain reliever to ease your child’s pain.

You can also help reduce discomfort by:

  • placing a warm compress over the ear
  • encouraging plenty of rest to help the body fight infection
  • offering babies and young children plenty of fluids; chewing gum may help older children

When additional treatment is needed

If an ear infection lingers longer than three days or you notice pus or blood draining from your child’s ear, see your doctor. These may be indications of a ruptured eardrum.