Babies and Ear Infections

Babies and Ear Infections

Let’s deal with some typical and often asked questions with regards to ear infections.  They’re very common for babies, and very painful.  I personally had an ear infection within the last year or two, and could not to believe how painful it was.  I can’t imagine how a baby suffers through one.

So, why are ear infections such a common ailment for babies?

Well, we need to have a little bit of an anatomy lesson to understand that.  The Eustachian, which is a tube that connects the middle ear to the back of the throat helps to equalize pressure in the head.  But as we know our throats and our noses are often full of bacteria, or are at the very least a breeding ground for bacteria.  Since the Eustachian is very short, as well as being wide and horizontal, any secretions from the throat or nose — as well as any germs that may be laying in wait there as well — are able to travel easily through it.  If any fluid becomes trapped in the middle ear, this provides fertile ground for germs to grow, leading to frequent ear infections.

Is it imperative to deal with ear infections properly and promptly? 

Absolutely.  Frequent ear infections can ultimately damage the eardrum, and the ability to hear depends on the proper vibration between the eardrum and the middle ear.  So chronic ear infections can ultimately interfere with your child’s ability to hear.  Therefore, take every ear infection seriously.  This should be especially true when the ear infections have been during the period when your child is learning to talk, as hearing loss during this process can lead to speech delays, or perhaps language problems that could interfere with later development.

Is it possible to spot an ear infection? 

Yes, but this may take some trial and error, and you will have to pay attention to your baby’s cues.  Learn how to spot their own way of communicating the situation to you.  Here are some things to watch out for: often times a middle ear infection will occur after your baby has had a cold.  So if they’ve had a bit of a runny nose, but aren’t really that bad, and then a few days later they’re quite cranky, and what had been clear discharge becomes yellow or green, this typically means an ear infection.

Another sign is that they may be having more restless nights, waking up, seeming to be in pain.  Also, when either sleeping at night or napping, they may not want to lie flat, as this places pressure on the eardrum.  If this happens, turn them over so that they are lying with their sore ear facing up

One other dead giveaway is eye drainage, especially if that is combined with a cold, as this typically means an ear infection, and possibly a sinus infection as well.

Should I take them to the doctor if I suspect an ear infection? 

This is a good idea, yes.  To be able to treat an ear infection, the doctor will need to examine both the baby’s eardrum and its respiratory tract.

In the case of a mild or moderate ear infection, it will likely heal up without the use of antibiotics.  Before prescribing them, your doctor will want you to simply observe your child first, for signs that indicate they may be becoming sicker.  If after a few days, they fail to improve on their own, then your doctor may prescribe antibiotics.

Why is my baby tugging at his ear? 

Ear infections aren’t the only reason for your child to be tugging at their ear.  If they’re teething, they may be dealing with referred or reflective pain, which simply means that pain is perceived at one location, when the actual source of the pain is elsewhere.  A great example of referred pain is when someone suffers a heart attack, the pain is often felt in other areas such as the arm, neck or shoulders instead of the chest area.  So in this case, pain from your child’s jaw may be referred up to the ear area, causing them to tug on their ear lobes.  However, if the ear tugging is also paired with a cold, runny nose, or eyes, then the issue likely isn’t teething.  If your child has suffered from chronic ear infections in the past, it could also be that your child is suffering because of pain from that.  This is a condition known as otitis media with effusion.  Ultimately, mom knows her baby best, so if you feel that the issue is an ear infection, its best that you make an appointment with your pediatrician.

Can Anything Be Done To Prevent Ear Infections?

Knowledge is power, or so they say, so armed with that knowledge, or that understanding of how germs travel into your child’s ear, here are some steps that you can follow that should inhibit the collection of germs behind your child’s eardrums:

  • If possible, breast-feed your baby, as breast milk is known to increase your baby’s natural immunity.
  • If you bottle feed, make sure you feed your baby in an upright position, and then keep them in the upright position for a minimum of 30 minutes afterwards.
  • Do not smoke around your baby.
  • Try to keep allergens away from them while they sleep — this would be things like stuffed animals, and fuzzy toys, and if necessary, your family pet.
  • Either don’t give your child a pacifier, or take it away from them. Studies have proven that there is a correlation between pacifier use and ear infections.  If you do use a pacifier or soother, limit its use to when the baby is being put to bad, especially once they are past 6 months of age.
  • Feed them, and immunity boosting diet, this should include fruits, vegetables, and seafood, as all these will help to improve your baby’s immune system.

We stated at the outset that one of the main issues that cause ear infections in babies is that their Eustachian tube is short.  As they grow, the tube becomes longer and narrower, and its slant becomes more acute, which in turn makes it significantly more difficult for germs and fluids to collect in the middle ear.  While this is happening, their immune systems are maturing as well, putting their bodies in a better position to fight off infections.  So put simply, your child will outgrow ear infections.