Complaints about ear aches are common occurrences throughout childhood. Ear infections cause pain because of inflammation in the middle ear and the buildup of fluid.
Ear pain can be caused by allergies, bacteria or viral infections, and environmental irritants like smoking. Children who lay down drinking from a bottle or sippy cup and those traveling are also susceptible to ear pain and infections.
Common symptoms include mild ear pain, drainage, pressure inside the ear, difficulty balancing, trouble hearing and fever. Young children may cry excessively, struggle to stay asleep and tug on their ear. Ear infections do not always require antibiotics. Over-the-counter medication such as acetaminophen, ibuprofen and decongestants can relieve symptoms.
“If a child has two red ear drums, it is often caused be a virus and will not require antibiotics. A single ear involvement, especially after a cold, often indicates a need for antibiotics because of a bacterial infection,” Dr. Mark Dowell of Rocky Mountain Infectious Disease said.
Children experience more ear infections than adults, in part, because they have shorter and narrower Eustachian tubes which connect the throat to the middle ear. Bottle feeding and pacifier use can also contribute to ear infections. Children, on average, have more colds than adults increasing the chance of ear pain and infections.
“Treatment of bacterial ear infections is important to prevent hearing loss, mastoiditis and rarely meningitis,” Dowell said.
Breast-feeding babies and limiting the use of pacifiers can help reduce the risk of ear infections. If you do bottle-feed, feed babies in an upright position as opposed to lying down. Regularly washing hands with soap and water and use of hand gel is important. Keep immunizations up-to-date.