Sleepless nights, endless crying, and a fever that just won’t quit. Could it be that your child has an ear infection? It’s a definite possibility, especially if they’ve just had a viral cold. Dealing with sniffles is one thing, but the prospect of an ear infection may leave you feeling more worried than usual. That’s why we’ve put together this blog to help you figure out if your child has an ear infection and what you can do about it.


Let’s start with some ear anatomy

Your ears are made up of three parts: the outer ear, middle ear, and inner ear. It’s the middle ear that is involved in ear infections. It sits right behind the eardrum and is connected to the upper throat and the nasal cavity by a small tube called the Eustachian tube. This tube is responsible for draining the fluid that normally sits in the middle ear.

When your child gets a cold, it’s not just their nose getting stuffed up and their throat getting swollen; their Eustachian tubes suffer too. As these tubes get congested, they can’t drain the fluid in the middle ear and that’s when bacteria that normally live in the middle ear take over, which results in an ear infection.

Children are more prone to ear infections because their Eustachian tubes are narrower, shorter, and lie more horizontally than in adults – all of which make it easier for them to get blocked.


How can you tell if your child has an ear infection?

For older children, it’s easier to figure this out. They might complain of a pain, ache, or pressure in their ear, they might struggle to follow conversations, as their hearing is affected by the infection, and they may also feel dizzy.

For younger children and babies, you’ll need to look out for other signs including tugging at or sticking their fingers in their ears, slower responses when you talk to them, secretions from the ear, a general increase in irritability, and difficulty sleeping.

For children of all ages, a persistent fever is another sign of an ear infection. Common colds usually result in a fever for 24-48 hours, while an ear infection may cause a fever to drag on for longer.

If these symptoms are sounding worryingly familiar, then your child may have an ear infection. So, what can you do about it?


Treating an ear infection

For children older than 6 months with fairly mild symptoms, giving them pain relief and something to help with the fever, such as Tylenol, is often enough. Make sure you follow the manufacturer’s dosage instructions when giving Tylenol.

If symptoms are anything more than mild, or your baby is less than six months old, it is a good idea to get them to a doctor. In some cases, your family doctor will advise that you see an ear, nose, and throat (ENT) doctor.


What will your family doctor do?

Your doctor will factor in a few different things before deciding on how to treat your child. This includes how old your child is, how long the symptoms have been going on, and how the eardrum looks.

Taking all of this into consideration, your doctor might suggest taking a course of antibiotics. If not, they may suggest keeping a close eye on your child and giving them pain relief.

As we mentioned earlier, sometimes you might be advised to see an ENT doctor. This is usually the case with children who have ear infections very often or have chronic ear infections that last a month or longer. In these cases, the middle ear can become damaged, which can lead to some level of long-term hearing loss.


What can an ENT doctor do? 

An ENT doctor will help determine if getting your child fitted with ear tubes will help to reduce the number of ear infections they get. This is a straightforward outpatient procedure that is very effective in treating chronic ear infections.


Here to help

If you’re concerned that your child has been getting ear infections too frequently, all you need to do is bring them along for a hearing assessment with one of our ENT doctors at Scottsdale Ear, Nose & Throat, your award-winning center for ear, nose, and throat care in Scottsdale. We’ll make sure your child gets the care they need. Put your mind at ease and give us a call at 480-684-1080.

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Dr. Debra L. Hamila, Au.D., CCC/A

Debra Hamila received her master’s degree in audiology from Cleveland State University and her Au.D. from Arizona School of Health Sciences and has been a practicing audiologist for more than 33 years. She has worked in a variety of ENT offices, hospital, and clinical settings.