Baby ear infections: How to spot and treat them

Baby ear infections: How to spot and treat them

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2:47 min| 3,471,067 views

Ear infections are a common diagnosis for babies because their inner ears are still growing and can't drain as easily as an adult's. Learn the symptoms of an ear infection, and find out from Dr. Rosenberg how to treat and prevent them.

Dr. Dawn Rosenberg, M.D., FAAP, is a board-certified general pediatrician in San Francisco. She is very committed to teaching and is actively involved in medical student and resident education as an associate clinical professor in the Department of Pediatrics at University of California, San Francisco.

Show transcript

Ear infections are very common in babies. About half of babies have at least one ear infection by the time they turn one. In fact, an ear infection is the most common condition that we pediatricians diagnose in our offices.

Ear infections are caused by bacteria or viruses. When your baby has a cold, a sinus infection, or an allergy, fluid tends to build up in his middle ear, which is behind the eardrum. When the eustachian tube, which is the tube connecting the middle ear to the back of the nose, gets blocked, fluid gets trapped and becomes a breeding ground for germs. Babies are very susceptible to ear infections, because their eustachian tubes are still very short and horizontal, so they don't drain as well as an adult's, and they tend to get blocked.

If your baby has an ear infection, he may have a wide range of symptoms. Often the first sign is a change in his behavior, such as extreme fussiness, as ear infections can be really painful. He also may have a fever. Other clues are poor appetite and disrupted sleep, since lying down can make his ears hurt more. Some babies will tug on their ears persistently. And be on the lookout for white or yellow fluid draining from his ears, as that is a sure sign of infection. Your baby may also have diarrhea or vomiting as a result of the bug that caused the ear infection.

Call your doctor if you think your baby may have an ear infection. Frequently, we recommend a wait-and-see approach, where you treat your baby's discomfort with ibuprofen or acetaminophen, and monitor symptoms for two to three days. Only use ibuprofen if your baby is over 6 months old. If symptoms persist or worsen during that time frame, then antibiotics may be needed to clear his infection. If your baby suffers from repeated ear infections, your doctor may refer you to an otolaryngologist, or an ENT, who may recommend having ear tubes placed.

The best way to ward off ear infections is to reduce the spread of germs, since ear infections usually come from colds. So, frequent hand washing is key. It's also important to stay up to date on the recommended childhood vaccines. First-year vaccines, like the Haemophilus influenzae B, and pneumococcal, will help prevent ear infections. I also recommend an annual flu vaccine, since influenza can cause an ear infection. Another tip is to avoid having your baby feed either from the breast or the bottle while lying down. This position may trap fluid in his middle ear, predisposing him to an ear infection.

Thankfully, many ear infections will resolve on their own, but it's still worth checking in with your doctor.

Video production by Paige Bierma.

Watch the video: Ear Infections in Children (July 2022).


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