You know it, it’s the middle of the night, no one is getting sleep.
Everyone is crying
Oh crap… is it an ear infection, or something else?
That was a good part of my life with baby #1. Have you ever lived this situation out in your own home? Here are some ear infection symptoms to look for!
Ear infections can be SO miserable. Let’s give you a few things to watch for to know if that might be the problem, especially in non-verbal babies/early toddlers (it’s petty easy to know it’s an ear infection if they can say “my ears hurt” — it’s always so nice once kids can tell you their symptoms!).
Ear infections are caused by fluid collecting behind the ear drum (often from a cold or allergies) and then bacteria/viruses growing in there. It causes the ear drum to bulge and that’s painful.
Ok, how do I know all this?
Well, long before I worked labor and delivery, I worked phone triage for a huge pediatric office. I also worked their late night emergency clinic. It was a GREAT job for a person to learn a lot about children’s health. I feel really blessed to have been able to learn all that I did, and now I can share those lessons with you!
Ear Infection Symptoms:
Pulling at their ears
This one SEEMS like it makes sense, but a lot of kids pull their ears when they’re tired or their throat hurts or sometimes even when they find a lot of joy in pulling at their ears. This isn’t a tell-tale, but often when done WHILE whining or doing it out of character along with the other two can be a sign…
Cry when you lay them down
This isn’t when you lay them down in their crib. This is when they lay down on your lap or on the couch by you. The fluid behind their ear drum is especially painful when they lay down — that’s what causes this.
Cry when they’re eating
Babies often cry when they’re eating, but when they have an ear infection, they’ll take a few hungry sucks and then start to cry. This was usually the more tell tale sign for me. If they only have an irritated throat they’ll cry on the first suck. Again, this is because the fluid behind their ears (you have to remember that ears and throat are REALLY close in a baby) moves in a way that irritates them after those first couple of sucks. It will also hurt more to eat laying down (see above) than if you sit them up and have them eat.
A couple of things about ear infections:
Studies seem to show that ear infections are frequently viral. That means that antibiotics aren’t helpful for them. BUT, in kids under 2-3, most of the time your provider will recommend an antibiotic. However, after age 3, or so, you might want to consider holding off. I’m a huge proponent of not using antibiotics unless you REALLY need to! A lot of time — I will ask my provider to give me a script, and then watch them for a couple of days. If the ear pain gets considerably worse or they’re just not getting better, then we can start it at my discretion.
**I’m talking about an inner ear infection. That means infection behind your eardrum. You can also have an outer-ear infection that is treated with topical drops and is often called swimmer’s ear. There are drops you can use to help make the eardrum less painful. I have yet to find one that works well for us, but I have friends that rave about them.
El Presidente got tubes after an ear infection that was taking months to get rid of. They usually recommend tubes after either repetitive ear infections or ones that won’t go away. Just one or two isn’t an indication that tubes are worthwhile — be sure to ask your doctor any questions you have, though!
The #1 best thing to know if your child has an ear infection is buying an otoscope and using it frequently to know what a normal ear drum looks like, vs an infected one. I wish I had bought this otoscope when my first was little. It would’ve saved a lot of co-pays. Again, the key is looking in their ears frequently (especially when they’re feeling fine) to figure out how to do it and what their normal ear drum looks like. The beauty about that otoscope is that it comes with a guide of what to look for. Super handy!
The reason I write these types of articles is to prevent unnecessary visits to your pediatrician. Any more, whenever I call I feel like they tell me to just come in. The reality is that there are a LOT of childhood illnesses that do NOT need to be seen by a doctor. It just isn’t a good use of your health care dollar. That’s my perspective, but there’s nothing wrong — if you’re concerned, to have your doctor take a peek at your child. An ear infection can easily turn into an eye infection as well.
As always NEVER take any advice given here over the advice of your doctor and if you are concerned you should always seek help from a healthcare professional.
If your child has a fever be sure to check out children’s fever — that post is super informational!