Ear Infections in Babies

Ear infections are very common in babies because their Eustachian tubes are narrow and horizontal and therefore they can get blocked because of poor drainage which can lead to ear infection.  Babies are more prone to ear infections in the winter months but they can happen at any time.

How Can I tell if my baby has an ear infection?

A baby cannot tell you that they are in pain but here are some signs that may indicate an ear infection:

  • A cough or runny nose accompanied by a fever
  • Pulling at and tugging at their ear
  • Crying, distress and upset
  • Pulling away whilst feeding (sucking and swallowing can hurt if there is an ear infection)
  • Loss of appetite
  • A discharge from the ear
  • Some mild hearing loss, less responsive to your voice
  • Diarrhoea

A baby may also have these symptoms with a more general earache or whilst teething but you should speak to your midwife, health visitor or doctor if you think your baby has an ear infection or you have any concerns.


Why has my baby got an ear infection?

There are two types of ear infection: an outer ear infection (Otitis externa) and a middle ear infection (Otitits media).  An outer ear infection can be caused when the passage leading to the eardrum becomes infected either from scratching, over cleaning, or if an item has got stuck in the ear.  An inner ear infection is extremely common and is caused by bacteria entering the middle ear through the Eustachian tube from the nose and throat.  This often happens when your child has a cold or virus as this can cause a build-up of mucus.

If a child persistently suffers from middle ear infections, your doctor may examine the ear further as they can be linked to glue-ear.


What should I do?

Most ear infections will clear up quickly on their own and you should try and comfort your child and if they are old enough (over 2 months) you may wish to use the recommended amount of infant paracetamol to help with their discomfort.  If you have not used this before, you may wish to speak to a pharmacist first.

However, you should contact your doctor if:

  • You are concerned or feel that you need help or advice
  • Your baby is younger than 3 months old
  • Symptoms do not improve after 3 days
  • You are unable to soothe or baby
  • There is fluid or discharge coming from the ear
  • The ear pain is accompanied with a fever
  • Your baby is affected in both ears

Your doctor may prescribe antibiotics to help the infection.  If the ear infection does not improve, you should return to your doctor as ear infections that are left untreated can cause hearing problems later.

It is important that you try and keep your baby calm and happy.  You should try to keep baby’s fluid intake up to keep your child well hydrated.


Can ear infections be prevented?

You can reduce the risk of your baby getting ear infections but there is nothing that can remove the risk completely.  You could try sitting your baby more upright in your arms for feeding rather then a lying down position.  If your baby is around people who smoke there is a greater risk of developing an ear infection.

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