Take note if your little one tugs at their ear. It’s a telltale sign of an ear infection, an extremely common condition among young children.
According to the American Academy of Otolaryngology, 62% of children will experience an ear infection before their first birthday. More than 80% will have an ear infection before the age of 3 and nearly all children will have one by age 5.
Why does this condition occur so frequently during those years and what can parents do to prevent a child’s ear infection from happening in the first place.
What Is an Ear Infection?
In simple terms, an ear infection is an inflammation of the middle ear. Fluid becomes trapped behind the ear drum, allowing bacteria to grow. Many times, an ear infection follows a cold or other upper respiratory infection. It can also result from seasonal nasal allergies. Symptoms usually include:
- Fever, especially in infants and toddlers
- Fussiness and irritability
- Sleep disturbances
- Tugging and pulling at ears
- Hearing difficulty
- Fluid discharge from the ears
- Clumsiness and trouble balancing
Why Children Are Susceptible
While adults can get ear infections, the condition affects children much more frequently. The reason? Anatomy. Eustachian tubes allow fluid to drain from the ear to the back of the throat. The tubes are smaller in children, which means fluid doesn’t drain as well as in adults.
When kids get sick with a cold or respiratory virus, the problem gets worse. During an illness, swelling or mucus may block the tubes from draining. The fluid becomes trapped in the middle ear, causing an infection.
Treating Ear Infections at Home
A child’s ear infection can develop very quickly. Bacteria can start to grow in the middle ear even if your child is just mildly congested. If you suspect an ear infection, acetaminophen or ibuprofen can help relieve fever and discomfort.
However, a doctor should evaluate your child. He or she will determine if antibiotics are necessary to treat the infection or if you should wait and watch for a few days to determine if it will improve without prescription medication.
Preventing Ear Infection
Your children should receive the flu vaccine as well as the 13-valent pneumococcal conjugate vaccine (PCV-13), which has been shown to reduce ear infections in young children, according to ScienceDaily. Other things to do to prevent ear infections include:
- Breastfeed, which has been shown to decrease ear infections in infants, according to the University of Texas Medical Branch
- Suction excess mucus from the nasal passages using a nasal aspirator
- Keep children away from tobacco smoke
- Don’t allow babies to take bottles to bed or while lying on their backs
- Make certain your child washes his or her hands frequently
- Keep children away from sick children or adults
What to Do About Chronic Ear Infections
In spite of these precautions, some children experience as many as five or six ear infections a year. Your doctor may recommend surgically placing tiny tubes in your child’s eardrums to improve air flow and help fluid drain better. The tubes remain in place for several months before falling out.
Depending on your child’s condition, your doctor may also recommend removing a patch of tissue at the back of your child’s throat called the adenoids. Removing the adenoids can prevent bacteria from spreading from the nasal passage to the Eustachian tubes.
An ear infection in children may be a common occurrence, but it can be prevented or easily treated. Learn how to help your child from avoid this painful condition, and know what to do when you do see symptoms of an ear infection in your loved one.
Advice or recommendations are for informational or educational purposes only, not a substitute for a visit or consultation with your doctor.
BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee members can access wellness-related discounts on fitness products, gym memberships, healthy eating and more through Blue365®. BCBST members can also use tools and resources to help improve health and well-being by logging into BlueAccess and going to the in the Member Wellness Center under the Managing Your Health tab.