Your toddler is tugging at their ear and acting extra fussy. Could it be an ear infection?
Ear infections are one of the most common reasons parents bring their child to the doctor. In fact, five out of six kids will experience at least one ear infection by their third birthday. The condition, also known as acute otitis media, is an inflammation of the middle ear that occurs when fluid builds up behind the eardrum and becomes infected by bacteria or a virus. Since your child may not yet have the language skills to communicate their pain, it’s important to learn the signs and symptoms of an ear infection, and when it’s time to see a medical provider.
Signs and Symptoms
- Tugging or pulling at the ear(s)
- Ear pain that’s worse when lying down
- Irritable, fussier than usual
- Crying more than usual
- Difficulty hearing and/or failing to respond to sounds
- Difficulty balancing
- Drainage from the ear
- Fever (100 F or higher)
- Difficulty sleeping
- Loss of appetite
These symptoms can indicate a number of conditions, so it’s important to get an accurate diagnosis and proper treatment from a medical provider.
When To See A Doctor
Call your child’s doctor, or head right into our clinic if:
- symptoms last for more than a day
- ear pain is severe
- your child is sleepless or irritable after a cold or upper respiratory infection
- you observe a discharge of fluid, pus or blood from the ear
To diagnose ear pain, our provider will review your child’s symptoms, perform a physical exam, and use a lighted instrument, called an otoscope, to view the eardrum. The provider may also use a pneumatic otoscope to check for fluid behind the eardrum.
If symptoms indicate a bacterial infection, we may be prescribe a course of antibiotics. Other times, it’s best to simply monitor the situation and focus on symptom management. Some earaches are not caused by infection, and will get better on their own within 1-2 days. Ear drops and over-the-counter pain relievers such as acetaminophen and ibuprofen can reduce fever and ease pain.