previously published in KC Baby magazine Winter issue 2011-12
Your infant cries more than usual, refuses feedings, has a discolored runny nose and tugs at her ear all morning long…what is your first thought? Colic? Not hungry? Coming down with a cold? These are common signs of an ear infection, and you DON’T want to ignore these symptoms. Call your pediatrician right away.
“Next to the common cold, ear infections are the most commonly diagnosed childhood illness in the United States,” reports the Nemours Foundation. So it is a good idea that parents become familiar with these symptoms and prepare for what to do.
What Is an Ear Infection (Otitis Media)?
Basically, the middle ear (the space behind the eardrum), which happens to be shorter and more horizontal in younger children than adults, gets full of fluid from either a common cold or allergies; and without proper drainage, a secondary infection can occur, causing a fever, ear pain and a red, bulging ear drum. Ear infections usually start on the third day of a cold. Otitis media peaks at the ages of 6 months to 2 years; however, the infections can remain a problem up until 8 years of age, according to the American Academy of Pediatricians (AAP).
Dr. Scott Dattel, a pediatrician at Kansas City Pediatrics, says, “When a young patient presents with clear nasal drainage, no fever and the pediatrician has ruled out all signs of a bacterial infection, they will have the parent watch the child carefully for 3-5 days. However, if the child isn’t getting better, the clear mucus turns green and a fever goes higher than 101 degrees, the child needs to be rechecked, and a course of antibiotics will probably be required.”
“I find antibiotics a necessary evil for an infant with an ear infection,” says Heidi Prentice, an Overland Park mother of two girls. “I don’t think it is fair to let the baby suffer with the pain, fever and sleeplessness that my baby gets with her recurring ear infections. I also don’t want to chance hearing loss. However, I found that using saline rinses at the first sign of the sniffles can oftentimes prevent an ear infection altogether.”
Preventing Recurrent Infections
- Stay Away from Tobacco Smoke – Make sure that no one smokes in your home, the car or at the daycare where your child stays. Exposure to secondhand smoke can increase the frequency and the severity of your child’s ear infections.
- Breastfeed Infants for at Least 6 Months – This can actually prevent early ear infections. With bottle-feeding, babies tend to lie down to drink their bottles, causing fluid to pool in that middle ear. Try to keep them more upright for better results.
- Fewer Exposures to Large Groups of Kids – More kids to breathe on, more colds, more risk of turning into ear infection…the circle of ear infection life!
- Good Handwashing – Do I need to explain this one again? Let’s all try to do better, right?!
- Keep Immunizations Up-to-Date – Certain vaccines, such as the pneumococcal, flu and Hib can keep your child from getting sick and progressing into an ear infection.
“Ventilation tubes are tiny plastic tubes that are inserted through the eardrum by an ENT (Ear, Nose & Throat) surgeon, which allow fluid to drain out of the middle ear space and allow air to re-enter,” reports the AAP. “This reduces the risk of recurrent ear infections and returns the hearing to normal.”
Parents often debate whether or not to treat their infant with antibiotics for ear infections; but it is imperative your child be seen by a medical provider who can fully assess the situation and determine what is best for your baby. If the infection is severe enough and left untreated, further complications can arise. Please let your doctor advise you closely in these decisions!
Stacey Hatton is a pediatric RN, mother of two girls (one with ear tubes, one without) and a freelance writer in Overland Park, who is so glad the days of monthly ear infections are over!