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How to Spot Ear Infections in Your Child

ear infectionIf you think the cold is common, take a look at ear infections. Around 80% of all children will suffer from ear infection in the first three years of life—and kids between the ages of 6 months and 2 years are particularly susceptible to this painful condition.

The problem here is that children are often too young to communicate their discomfort verbally. Parents have to rely on non-verbal cues from their little ones in order to make sure the problem is quickly diagnosed and treated.

Why kids are susceptible

An ear infection is the result of trapped fluids in the area behind the child’s eardrum. Fluid often accumulates here when the passage from the ear to the throat, called the eustachian tube, is blocked due to allergies or common cold. Because the eustachian tube is shorter and less rigid in children, fluid has a better chance to build up. The child’s immune system is also not as strong as the average adult’s, which means bacteria and viruses have a better chance to take hold.

Reading the signs

One of the strongest signs that your child has an ear infection is a yellowish or clear pus draining from the ear itself. This is due to fluid putting pressure on the eardrum to the point where the eardrum becomes perforated and the fluid leaks through. Thankfully, the eardrum is very good at healing itself after such a perforation, and you generally need not worry about long-term side effects.

Other signs of ear infection include the following:

Unusually high irritability
The child becomes aggravated when lying down
Trouble sleeping
Reduced appetite
Lack of response to aural stimulation (trouble hearing)
Diarrea or vomiting
Excessive tugging at the ear

If any of these signs are noticeable, it’s time to take your child to the nearest urgent care center and have a medical examination. If the doctor determines that the child does have an ear infection, a number of treatment options come into play.

How ear infections are treated in children

Children under the age of two are almost always given antibiotics when bacterial ear infection is strongly suspected. This is because the child cannot effectively give parents or doctors information on whether the symptoms are getting better or worse, and the risks of leaving a bacterial infection (e.g. hearing loss) are too significant to risk it.

For children older than two, many doctors and urgent care clinics will elect to monitor the child carefully for a few days, in order to see if the symptoms reduce on their own. This avoids the stress of an antibiotic treatment, which is only effective if the infection is indeed present and is caused by bacteria rather than a virus.

In such cases, gentle doses of ibuprofen or similar medications may be prescribed in order to provide relief as the infection runs its course. You should definitely avoid over-the-counter medications such as ear drops unless directed by your pediatrician or doctor. Pressure changes, such as you experience when flying, should also be avoided when ear infection is present.

The bottom line

Keep an eye out for the signs listed above, and if you suspect your child may be suffering an ear infection, head to your pediatrician or urgent care clinic for a checkup. Ear infections are very common in early child development, but the vast majority are quickly healed with no lasting side effects.

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