It’s 2 am and your baby is up crying in pain. You take her to the doctor in the morning and confirm she has an ear infection. If you have ever experienced an ear ache you know how painful it is. Imagine how an ear infection in infants must feel and they can’t tell you what’s wrong. When something isn’t right with your baby it’s a guessing game to figure out what it is, but you can usually tell by their cries that something is bothering them.
Causes of Ear Infections in Babies
Ear infections are very common in babies. Due to a baby’s smaller anatomical structure, it is much easier for a baby to acquire an ear infection as they have short eustachian tubes. Many babies commonly experience an infection immediately following a cold because fluid often becomes entrapped in the middle ear which present the perfect opportunity for germs and bacteria to grow. Here are a few other common causes that can lead to an infection:
- Frequent sucking associated with the use of pacifiers
- Second-hand smoke
- Food allergies; specifically to milk or dairy
If you have more than one child you may notice a common occurrence of ear infections between them; however, they are NOT contagious. Rather, certain factors that are such as the common cold, can easily be spread among children which may lead to an infection in those who are more susceptible. This is especially true for children in day care settings that frequently pass on germs to other children. Likewise, other factors such as family history can be the culprit as they can be hereditary. I had frequent ear infections as a child and as a result both of my kids have experienced their share of them as well.
Signs of an Ear Infection
While your baby can’t verbally tell you what’s wrong, there are signs that may indicate it could be their ears that are bothering them. Only a doctor can provide an accurate diagnosis, so if you notice any of the following symptoms make an appointment with your pediatrician:
- Disruptive sleep
- Excessive irritability
- Tugging at the ears
- Drainage from the ears and/or eyes
- Mild fever
- Decreased appetite
An infection of the middle ear causes pressure from inflammation and fluid build up that can cause pain, especially when babies are lying down or sucking. While tugging, rubbing or banging at the ears is a common symptom, it can also be brought on from teething or your baby is simply exploring their body parts. If your baby’s ear tugging is not accompanied by a cold or any of the symptoms mentioned above then there’s usually no cause for concern.
There are many homeopathic remedies for treating ear infections in babies, although it is not recommended that you put anything in the ears. If your baby is displaying symptoms call your pediatrician for an appointment. These types of infections are generally caused by bacteria and a doctor may prescribe antibiotics for treatment if necessary.
How to Relieve Ear Pain
An ear infection most often presents itself in the middle of the night. These are a few methods you can try at home to help alleviate baby’s pain until you can get them in with the doctor.
- Give a pain reliever such as Acetaminophen or Ibuprofen per dosing instructions recommended for your baby’s age/weight
- Apply a warm, moist compress to the general area by your baby’s ear
- Keep the head elevated
Most times a baby suffering an ear infection will want to be held more than usual. This is not only comforting to them but it also helps to alleviate the pressure by elevating their heads. Try elevating your baby’s crib mattress or place them in the swing/bouncer to sleep.
Preventing an Ear Infection in Infants
It’s not always avoidable, but there are a few things that can help to minimize the occurrence of ear infections in babies. Here are some preventable measures you can take to avoid those trips to the doctor.
Breastfeeding: In addition to the many benefits they offer, the antibodies found in breast milk help build a higher immunity which can ward off common infections.
Feeding upright: If you bottle-feed your baby always be sure to hold them in a semi-upright position while feeding and afterwards for 30 minutes to avoid fluid backup. Keeping your baby elevated to at least 30 degrees during and after feedings is also recommended to help avoid or minimize the symptoms of reflux.
Limit pacifier use: Pacifiers have been commonly shown to reduce a baby’s risk of SIDS, although it should be kept to a minimum such as at bed time and nap times to help reduce the chance of infections. Additionally, limiting your baby’s pacifier use in older infants will help make it easier when it’s time to put it away for good.
Keep water out: Water that stays in the ear can harbor bacteria growth and lead to infections (commonly referred to as swimmer’s ear) so be sure to avoid getting water in the ears when washing baby’s hair. You can use ear plugs that are suitable for use in infants to help keep water from entering the ear canal (just be sure not to insert them in the ear canal) or simply use a cotton ball coated with petroleum jelly in the external ear.
While some babies may experience very few or even have no ear infections, for others it is unavoidable. It is recommended that an ear infection in infants be treated by a doctor rather than wait it out, especially if it’s causing pain and lack of sleep. In some cases, frequent ear infections left untreated can lead to hearing loss. Most children will outgrow it by the time they reach the age of 4 so take heart that it won’t last forever.