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Signs and Symptoms of Ear Infections in Kids Every Parent Must Know

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As a parent, you most likely have encountered an ear infection with your child. In fact, 75% of children will have at least one ear infection before age 3.

Signs and Symptoms of an Ear Infection

An ear infection occurs when fluids caused by bacteria or viruses build up in the ear, causing pain and inflammation. The main symptom your child may express to you is ear pain, and if your child cannot talk yet, you may see them pulling on their ear or rubbing at it while crying. Other signs and symptoms to look out for include:

  • Difficulty sleeping. Ear infection pain tends to be worse at night, especially when lying down, and can disturb a child’s sleep.
  • High fever
  • Low appetite
  • Drainage of fluid from the ear

Who is the Most Susceptible to Ear Infections?

Ear infections are often recurring. This is because they are caused by many different types of germs and children encounter many opportunities for infection. There are also children who simply have a tendency toward ear infections.

There are several significant factors that can contribute to the likelihood of ear infections:

  1. Genetics: A parent’s genetic predisposition to recurring ear infections can increase their child’s chances of having recurring ear infections.
  2. Drinking while lying down: Children who drink from a bottle while lying flat on their backs are more prone to ear infections due to the germs that enter their inner ear.
  3. Asthma: Children with asthma are more susceptible, as are children who suffer from allergic rhinitis (constant runny nose due to allergies) and atopic dermatitis (eczema).
  4. Exposure to illnesses: Being around other sick children (like at daycare or school) can increase a child’s risk of getting sick and developing ear infections.

Diagnosing an Ear Infection

An ear infection is diagnosed by an advanced practice provider who looks at the ear drum using an otoscope to determine the presence of infection. This exam can take place at the pediatrician’s office.

How to Treat an Ear Infection

Ear infections can be acute, which means lasting from a few days until two weeks, or they can be chronic, which means they last longer than two weeks.

While both acute and chronic ear infections are painful and unpleasant for a child, they are typically not considered dangerous. In fact, an ear infection can often heal on its own without the use of antibiotics. In these cases, providers will usually recommend keeping a close watch on the child while giving the body a chance to fight off the infection on its own.

In cases where the child seems very sick, or if symptoms don’t subside in two to three days, the use of antibiotics can treat these severe infections.

You can relieve symptoms such as pain or fever with over-the-counter medications like acetaminophen or ibuprofen. Make sure to ask your healthcare provider what medications are safe by discussing proper treatment and dosage during your in-office appointment.

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