Pearls of Wisdom: Your Baby and Ear Infections

At some point or another, most babies and children will suffer through the pain and discomfort of an ear infection. The telltale signs may be all you need to know what’s happening… crying, tugging at her ear(s), and temperature are all indicators. In children that have learned to talk, you may hear complaints of throbbing pain or that your child is having trouble hearing. You’ll need to get baby to the pediatrician for treatment and relief of an ear infection.

Middle ear infections, or “otitis media,” is the most prevalent disease of childhood, second only to respiratory infections. There are an estimated 25 million yearly visits to the pediatrician resulting from ear infections.  Accurate diagnosis and treatment of otitis media are important not only because it affects a lot of our children but also because left untreated, it can lead to serious complications like meningitis or brain abscess. Middle ear infections that lead to fluid in the middle ear, known as effusions, could also affect a child’s hearing and subsequently, his speech and language development.

Nearly 86% of children have at least one episode of otitis media by 3 years of age, with peaks occurring from 6-36 months and 4-6 years of age. Available medical data shows that the occurrence of ear infections tends to decrease with age but is higher in the following groups: male children; kids belonging to lower socioeconomic groups; black children, and among those with craniofacial anomalies. Incidence is also higher during winter months and early spring.

Ear InfectionWhen an ear is infected, the “eustachian tube” or the canal connecting the middle ear and the back of the throat gets clogged. During healthy periods, this canal is filled with air; however, during cold weather, when other respiratory infections are present, or when a child also has allergies, this tube can get blocked. When the eustachian tube is blocked, fluid accumulates in the middle ear and attracts bacteria that thrives. As this condition progresses, pressure increases on the eardrum, impeding its ability to vibrate properly. This can affect hearing and cause a great deal of pain.

It is wise to see your pediatrician so he can examine your child’s ear with an instrument called and “otoscope.” After diagnosing him with an ear infection, he may prescribe an antibiotic such as amoxicillin to kill the bacteria and prevent more fluid accumulation. Many times, an antibiotic is not necessary and relief can be attained just by giving acetaminophen or ibuprofen. Antihistamines and decongestants may also be prescribed depending on your child’s symptoms and a physical exam. However, in instances where fever persists and pain worsens despite these medications, he should be re-examined to rule out any other serious concurrent infections. Occasionally, if a child has recurrent ear infections, your doctor may suggest insertion of ear tubes to aid in draining trapped fluid from the middle ear.

It’s important to note that ear infections are not contagious and oftentimes, a child may return to school or daycare after the symptoms abate; however, it is always important to finish the course of antibiotics prescribed. All patients should be re-evaluated 2 weeks after the start of treatment to ensure that inflammation has resolved and the mobility of the tympanic membrane is back to normal.

Periodic follow up is highly recommended for patients with recurrent ear infections. Your pediatrician will also perform a hearing test on your child to ensure that there are no residual effects on his hearing after the infection.

Recurring medical conditions can be very trying for both children and parents. Trust me, I know it sometimes seems as though you see your pediatrician more than you see your best friend! But hang in there… some of my best friends today are parents that were in my office with their kids once a month of more ;)    Silver linings, friends. Silver linings!

I hope you are all having a wonderful, safe, and happy summer!

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All information contained in this blog and on our web site(s) should be independently verified by you by a medical professional of your own choosing and you should always conduct your own research and due diligence before making any decision related to the subject matter of this blog or our web site. 

Dr. Pearl CenonDr. Pearl

A pediatrician in private practice in New Jersey for over 15 years, Dr. Cenon (we like to call her Dr. Pearl) also has two children of her own. Dr. Pearl’s husband, Kevin McDonough is also a pediatrician and they work together. She writes basic posts about topics that interest many parents, from skin care and nutrition to seasonal issues, such as allergies and colds. Her kind, approachable tone in each blog post will have you looking forward to the next one.