5 months old
We know it’s heartbreaking to think of your tiny baby enduring the excruciating pain of an ear infection, but unfortunately they’re more susceptible than adults. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, most babies have at least one ear infection by the time they turn 3 years old, possibly because:
- Their Eustachian tubes (which drain fluid through the middle ear) are smaller and more horizontal – making it harder for fluid to drain. If your baby’s tubes aren’t able to drain and are filled with stagnant fluid, then growing bacteria can cause an infection, inflammation and pain. As children get older, those tubes stretch into a more vertical position.
- Their tubes are smaller in diameter as well as length, making them easier to be blocked.
- Babies spend a lot of time on their backs, especially now that experts recommend back sleeping to reduce SIDS. Make sure you don’t feed babies while they’re lying flat so that fluid can more easily drain from their ears.
- Babies are more susceptible to respiratory infections, which often go hand-in-hand with an ear infection. The Eustachian tubes drain fluid down the back of the nose and throat, so a cold, sinus infection or allergies can block the tubes and trap fluid, inviting bacteria to grow in the middle ear. Also, because his or her tubes are so short, any bacteria in your baby’s nose or throat can easily travel into his or her middle ear.
- Spending time in day care might increase your baby’s risk of an ear infection, only because colds are passed around more frequently. You can’t catch an ear infection.
- Find out more information in Babble’s Ear Infection Guide.
How do you know if your baby has an ear infection?
- The best indication is a change in your baby’s mood, sleep and appetite. Sometimes you might notice more painful-sounding cries, but in some cases not even that.
- Some babies will pull or grab at their ears, but this isn’t always a sure-fire sign of an infection. Babies might tug at their ears for other reasons too, like being tired or cranky.
- A fever – even if it’s only slight – is an important indicator that something is wrong.
- More serious cases can lead to temporary hearing loss (which can become permanent if left untreated).
- If you notice any type of fluid draining from the ear, this is definitely a sign of a serious infection.
What can you do to treat an infection?
- First of all, call your doctor on the first indication of an ear infection. This isn’t something to wait out or attempt to treat on your own.
- If the doctor confirms that your baby does, in fact, have an infection, there are a number of treatment options:
- Although most cases of uncomplicated ear infections clear up in four to seven days, your doctor might prescribe antibiotics for a baby. If this is the case, always administer the full dose of antibiotics, even if the infection has seemed to clear. (You don’t want to risk reinfection and antibiotic resistance.)
- If your doctor decides that your baby’s infection isn’t serious enough to warrant antibiotics, he or she might recommend baby acetaminophen or ibuprofen for the pain and/or fever.
- Your doctor might also prescribe eardrops.
- More serious cases might require minor surgery to drain fluid from the infected eardrum.
- Your doctor might want to set up periodic exams until the infection has completely cleared, just to rule out a chronic condition.
While it’s impossible to completely prevent all ear infections, there are certain measures you can take to reduce your baby’s risk:
- Wash your hands! This goes for you, your baby and any caregivers.
- Make sure your baby is eating well, gets an adequate amount of sleep and is up-to-date on monthly check-ups.
- Try to breastfeed for at least six months to a year, which will boost your baby’s immune system and help to ward off infections. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, formula-fed babies are 70 percent more likely to have ear infections.
- Talk to your doctor about when your baby can get a flu shot.
- Avoid feeding your baby in a horizontal position, and you can even try using bottles that are angled for digestion and ear infection prevention.
- Ban smoking around your baby. Not only can cigarette smoke cause congestion, but tobacco is believed to suppress the immune system.
- Cut down on your baby’s pacifier use during the day, which is believed to increase the risk of an ear infection by as much as 33 percent.
- If your baby has a cold, try elevating his or her mattress with a pillow under one end. (Under the mattress, not under your baby’s head.)
- Keep your child up-to-date on his or her immunizations.
From health products to travel gear, browse Baby Zone’s Newborn Essentials Guide!