What Can I Do for My Child's Ear Infection?

Reviewed on 6/9/2021
ear infection in children
Here’s what you can do at home to help relieve your child’s ear infection symptoms

In most cases, ear infections clear up without any treatment within a few days. Here’s what you can do at home to help relieve your child’s symptoms:

  • Give them an over-the-counter pain reliever:
  • Help your child rest by arranging quiet play.
  • Ice packs (wrapped in a cloth or towel) or warm compresses, placed on the outer ear, can help relieve ear pain. Keep it in place for about 20 minutes and repeat this every few hours throughout the day. You can alternate between hot and cold, since some children get relief with heat and others with ice.
  • Keep your child upright when they’re not sleeping. Lying down can increase pressure in the ear and thus worsen pain.
  • Keep your child hydrated with water or other fluids.

What medications can be prescribed for my child’s ear infection?

If the ear infection is severe and your child is fussy, you may need to ask your pediatrician for prescription medications. These may include:

What are signs and symptoms of ear infections in children?

An ear infection occurs when fluid builds up behind the eardrum, causing pain, pressure, temporary hearing loss, and fever. Common signs and symptoms of ear infection in children include:

  • Pain:
    • While older children can tell you if their ears hurt, younger children may only cry because of the irritation. This may be noticed more during feedings because sucking and swallowing can cause painful pressure changes in the middle ear.
  • Reduced appetite due to ear pain.
  • Trouble sleeping due to ear pain.
  • Temperature ranging from 100 (normal) to 104 degrees F.
  • Yellow or white fluid, possibly blood-tinged, draining from the child’s ear:
    • The fluid may have a foul odor and will look different from normal earwax (which is orange-yellow or reddish-brown).
    • Pain and pressure often decrease after drainage begins, but this doesn’t always mean that the infection is going away. The child will need to see a pediatrician.
  • Trouble hearing:
    • During and after an ear infection, the child may have trouble hearing for several weeks. This occurs because the fluid behind the eardrum gets in the way of sound transmission. 
    • This is usually temporary and clears up after the fluid from the middle ear drains away.

How can ear infections be prevented?

Here are some ways you can help prevent ear infections:

  • Breastfeed your baby.
  • Quit smoking:
    • Ear infections occur more often in children who are around cigarette smoke. 
    • Even the fumes from tobacco smoke on your hair and clothes can affect your children.
  • Encourage your child to wash their hands
  • Have your child immunized.
  • Make sure your child doesn't go to sleep while sucking on a bottle.
  • Try to limit the use of group childcare.
  • Never poke anything (such as cotton buds) into your child’s ear, even if they complain that their ear feels blocked.
  • Don’t use ear drops unless they are prescribed by a doctor.

QUESTION

Ear infection or acute otitis media is an infection of the middle ear. See Answer

When to call a doctor about your child’s ear infection

Children’s ear infections usually clear up without treatment. But it’s a good idea to consult a doctor if your child develops following symptoms:

  • Extreme drowsiness
  • Difficulty breathing or wheezing
  • Cold or discolored hands or feet with a warm body
  • A fever over 100 degrees F
  • Pain in their arms or legs
  • Unusual skin color (pale or blue) around their lips
  • A rash that does not fade when applying pressure to the skin
  • Pain and tenderness of the bone behind the ear
  • Blood or discharge from the ear

It’s pretty normal to get an ear infection once in a while (especially for children). But if the infections keep coming back, they could pose a serious health risk. Regular checkups are usually necessary to rule out underlying causes that may lead to hearing loss.

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References
WebMD. Treating Ear Infections in Children. https://www.webmd.com/first-aid/treating-ear-infections-in-children

Healthdirect. Ear infection. https://www.healthdirect.gov.au/ear-infection

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