Of course, there’s more to childhood ear infections than that, but it may be all a parent remembers after their children have grown. For handy reference, here are some fast facts:
Children are more likely to get ear infections than adults. Children’s Eustachian tubes are, of course, smaller than adults’. They are also less slanted, which makes it more difficult for natural fluids to drain. And since bacteria thrive in warm, moist places, built-up fluid behind the child’s eardrum creates ideal conditions for a bacterial infection.
Ear infections are painful. Whether your little one is experiencing a dull ache or stabbing pain doesn’t matter. What matters is that any situation when your child is experiencing pain shouldn’t be ignored. With an ear infection, the pain is often worse at night (hence, nobody getting any sleep) and sometimes worse when lying down.
In infants and toddlers, behavior changes could indicate pain from an ear infection. All little ones will cry and be fussy or cranky sometimes, but if you notice your infant or toddler taking it up a notch, an ear infection could be the culprit. Because ear infections are painful, crying may go to the screaming level, and crankiness may escalate to combativeness.
Only one-third to one-half of children with ear infections experience a fever. Ear infections with accompanying fever are more common in babies and toddlers than older children. High fevers are uncommon with an ear infection. In fact, less than 5 percent of children with an ear infection will have a fever above 104 degrees.
Pulling at ears usually means something else. According to the medical journal Pediatrics, only about 15 percent of the babies brought in for ear pulling were diagnosed with an ear infection. Allergies can plug ears, which could lead to ear pulling, and many children pull at their ears when they’re tired or teething. If you’re concerned about your baby’s ear pulling you should speak with your pediatrician, but the behavior doesn’t automatically indicate an ear infection.
An ear infection is frequently caused by a respiratory infection. Respiratory infections often cause excess fluid to collect in the Eustachian tubes, which can eventually lead to an ear infection. But allergies, changes in elevation, or the presence of an irritant (like cigarette smoke) can also lead to an ear infection.
An ear infection can be accompanied by vomiting or loose stools. To further complicate your at-home diagnosis, if your child is vomiting or has loose stools, don’t rule out an ear infection.
Ear infections are the most commonly diagnosed illness in infants and toddlers. You should always contact your pediatrician if you’re unsure about symptoms or if symptoms worsen. The sooner your little one starts treatment, the sooner everyone will get more rest.