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How to Treat Ear Infection in Toddlers

    How to Treat Ear Infection in Toddlers

    Otitis media, the scientific name for a middle ear infection, is one common reason why parents bring their children to the clinic or hospital. The truth is, anyone can develop an ear infection, but it’s most common in children ages 6 months to 3 years. Out of 6 children, 5 will develop otitis media at least once before their 3rd birthday. Because it’s very common, it’s essential to be knowledgeable about the steps on how to treat ear infection in toddlers.

    What is an Ear Infection?

    Part of knowing how to treat ear infection in toddlers is understanding what the condition means. When we say “ear infection,” we are talking about the sudden infection in the middle ear. If you’re wondering where your middle ear is, it’s the space behind the eardrum.

    While ear infection goes away on its own, it’s still important to bring your toddler to the doctor. The doctor will probably give your baby some medication to ease the pain, and if needed, some antibiotics.

    Finally, the doctor will confirm when the infection has cleared.

    The Causes of Ear Infection

    Before knowing how to treat ear infection in toddlers, it’s important to first understand its causes.

    Acute Otitis Media

    In most children, acute otitis media occurs after a respiratory condition. For instance, a toddler can develop an ear infection after having a cold. This happens in two ways:

    1. The virus or bacteria will reach the middle ear by passing through the Eustachian tube. This is the tube connects the back of the throat to the ear.
    2. The virus or bacteria can cause swelling in the Eustachian tube. When the tube is swollen, the fluids in the middle ear, which are normally drained, become stuck. Viruses or bacteria will infect the blocked fluid, ultimately causing the infection.

    It also doesn’t help that the tube in children is shorter and less sloped compared to adults. This makes it easier for the tube to get clogged as the fluids do not drain easily; it also allows bacteria and viruses to enter the middle more easily.

    Otitis Media with Effusion

    Acute otitis media with effusion typically happens after acute ear infection.

    In this instance, the infection has disappeared and the symptoms have cleared out. However, the fluid remains stuck in the ear. Your doctor can use a special instrument in order to examine the ear drum and determine if there is any leftover fluid.

    The confined fluid can cause temporary deafness and will most likely make your toddler more prone to another infection.

    Chronic Suppurative Otitis Media

    In this condition, the ear infection didn’t clear despite treatment or there is a persistent recurrence of fluid even without an infection.

    This is characterized by continuous middle ear drainage for more than 2-6 weeks. What’s dangerous about this is it can form a hole in the eardrum. A chronic suppurative ear infection is a common cause of hearing impairment, poor scholastic performance, and disability. Although rare, it can also cause fatal infections.

    Understanding how to treat ear infection in toddlers will increase your chances of preventing its dangers.

    How to Spot Ear Infection in Toddlers

    Since we want to learn how to treat ear infection in toddlers, we must know when to spot it first. You can tell that your child has an ear infection if they:

    • Keep on pulling their ears
    • Have difficulty in hearing
    • Find it hard to respond to quiet sounds
    • Keep on crying
    • Are fussy
    • Can’t sleep well
    • Develop fever
    • Become clumsy, or they have problems keeping their balance
    • Have fluids draining from their ear

    Additionally, observe your toddler if he or she is having trouble eating or drinking. Sometimes, they lose their appetite altogether. This is because the act of chewing or sucking causes pain in the ear. Finally, children with an ear infection can develop diarrhea or vomiting. The reason is that the virus or bacteria can also affect the gastrointestinal tract.

    How to Treat Ear Infection in Toddlers

    The good news about ear infection in toddlers is they go away easily, sometimes, even without antibiotics. Be sure to communicate with your doctor to guide you in in the treatment process.

    Within a couple of days, the symptoms will improve, and within just a week or two, your child will be completely healed. Still, knowing how to treat ear infection in toddlers is important.

    Treatment typically involves:

    • Waiting it out. Since most ear infections clear on their own, the doctor will check if the toddler is not in too much pain and discomfort. If they aren’t, then the doctor might wait for 1 to 2 days to see if it’ll get better without any treatment. If the signs and symptoms worsen, you should bring your baby back to the physician.
    • Taking antibiotics. Part of how to treat ear infection in toddlers is the prescription of antibiotics. The doctor orders it, especially when your toddler is moderately or severely ill with a temperature of 39 degrees C or more. A physician will also order antibiotic treatment if the baby is in too much pain and the symptoms have not improved for 48 hours. Antibiotics will likely be given if there’s new fluid in the ear canal.
    • Pain medications. When the doctor sees that your toddler is in too much pain, they might prescribe pain relievers in the form of ibuprofen or acetaminophen.

    If, after removing the factors that increase the likelihood of infection and ascertaining that antibiotic treatment is not working since the infection keeps coming back, the doctor may recommend a surgery that places a small tube in the eardrum to improve air flow and prevent fluid backup. If this still doesn’t work, the doctor may recommend adenoids removal, to prevent the infection from affecting the Eustachian tube.

    Despite knowing these steps on how to treat ear infection in toddlers, do not resort to giving them antibiotics unless the doctor prescribes them. While most acetaminophen and ibuprofen are safe, talking to your doctor is still the best course of action.

    How to Prevent Ear Infection in Toddlers

    You can do the following to prevent otitis media:

    • If possible, continue breastfeeding your baby. This will increase their immunity against some infections.
    • Don’t expose the toddler to second-hand smoke. It might increase the severity of the infection.
    • Keep their immunization up to date. Some vaccines can help prevent ear infection. Medical experts suggest that they should have yearly shots against the flu. Pneumococcal vaccines will also protect them from some types of infection-causing bacteria.
    • Don’t let the baby drink milk while lying down flat. Hold them at an angle. It’ll also help if you’ll transition your baby from bottle-feeding to using a cup when they turn one year old.
    • Be careful with pacifiers. While they can use pacifiers, don’t let them use it too often as it makes it easier for secretions in the throat to enter the middle ear, increasing the risk of infection.
    • Wash their hands. This is one important step in knowing how to treat ear infection in toddlers. Making sure that their hands are clean will prevent germs from spreading. It can also prevent colds that might trigger ear infection.

    When to See a Doctor

    If you suspect an ear infection, you should visit a doctor. More so if you notice the following:

    • The symptoms last for more than 24 hours.
    • The toddler has a fever lasting for more than 48 hours.
    • Ear pain is too much for the toddler, even after a dose of pain reliever.
    • Ear pain persists after 2 days of treatment with pain reliever.
    • The toddler is repeatedly vomiting.
    • He or she is very sleepy and irritable.
    • There’s a swelling behind the ear.
    • He or she develops skin rashes.

    An ear infection is a very common condition among children. Still, it’s very common, parents must have some knowledge of how to treat ear infection in toddlers. This will prevent the onset of panic when your child develops some or all of the symptoms of otitis media.

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    Hello Health Group does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.


    Ear Infections in Children
    Accessed June 15, 2020

    Ear Infection (Otitis Media)
    Accessed June 15, 2020

    Chronic suppurative otitis media
    Accessed June 15, 2020

    Ear infections
    Accessed June 15, 2020

    Middle Ear Infections (Otitis Media)
    Accessed June 15, 2020

    Ear infection (middle ear)
    Accessed June 15, 2020

    How to Spot the Signs of an Ear Infection in Baby
    Accessed June 15, 2020

    Ear Infections in Children
    Accessed July 20, 2020

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    Written by Lorraine Bunag, R.N. Updated Jun 19, 2021
    Medically reviewed by John Paul Abrina, MD