Ear infections are the most common cause of earache in young children.
They are more susceptible to this condition because the Eustachian tubes – which connect the ears to the back of the nose and help to drain mucus – are smaller and more horizontal than in older children.
This means that fluid doesn’t drain away as efficiently, allowing bacteria and viruses to flourish. So when a cold strikes, an ear infection often follows.
There are two main types of infection – that of the outer ear (otitis externa), and of the middle ear (otitis media).
Outer ear infections: signs include redness around the ear and a possible discharge.
Middle ear infections: tend to be caused by fluid building up behind the eardrum. Can occasionally lead to a burst eardrum if there’s a big build-up of mucus. Once the eardrum has burst, the pain will ease and the eardrum usually repairs itself, but it’s important to see your GP straight away.
Breastfeeding can help prevent ear infections by boosting your baby’s immune system, and Finnish researchers found that babies who didn’t use dummies have 33% fewer incidents of middle ear infections.
Researchers in Canada found that children exposed to cigarette smoke up to the age of three had almost double the risk.
Spotting an infection
It’s easy to miss an ear infection initially, as your child may run a high temperature for many reasons. Symptoms of an ear infection include:
- your baby pulling at or rubbing her ear
- a high temperature
- being off her food/milk – sucking and swallowing may be painful
- being irritable and tearful
- finding it hard to sleep or (in toddlers) balance.
Not all earaches are caused by an ear infection – pain can be caused by a build-up of mucus as a result of a cold or pain caused by teething.
Easing the pain
If you think your child has an infection, seek medical advice. ‘If it’s a bacterial infection, antibiotics are needed,’ says GP Dr Sarah Brewer. ‘But if it’s viral, then painkillers and drinking plenty of liquid is advised.’
A paracetamol-based painkiller such as Calpol, suitable from 2 months, will ease the pain and help bring down her temperature.
Ibuprofen such as Nurofen for Children, suitable from 3 months, is infe too, as long as your baby is not allergic or asthmatic.
Sitting her upright with a warm towel pressed to her ear can be soothing. Supporting your child in this way will help any fluid drain from her ears.
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