If you watch over a young child, you probably know how common earaches can be.
Adults get them, too, but kids usually get them more often because they haven’t built up their immune systems to fight off common viruses and bacteria yet.
You can’t always stop all ear infections. But you can learn what causes them and then take steps to lower the chances that you or a child in your care will get them.
How They Happen
You get these infections in your middle ear. It’s an air-filled space behind your eardrum. It holds tiny, vibrating bones that pick up sound waves so you can hear.
A cold, the flu, or even allergies can all bring one on, too. That’s because they tend to cause congestion and swelling in your nasal passages and throat. When fluid builds up and doesn't drain effectively, it can increase your chance of an ear infection.
Ear infections tend to occur more in fall and winter because upper-respiratory infections such as cold and flu are on the rise then, too. Children who are 2 and younger get more ear infections because of the small size and shape of their Eustachian tubes.
Other things that can come into play:
Bottles and pacifiers: If children drink from a bottle while lying down or use a pacifier, then they’re more likely to get ear infections.
Daycare centers: Children can be exposed to more germs in situations where there are a lot of kids.
Air quality: Cigarette smoke and other kinds of air pollution can increase your child’s chances of getting an ear infection.
These things can help reduce the number of infections your child may get:
Breastfeeding: Babies who nurse for 12 months or more tend to have fewer infections. If breastfeeding isn’t an option, bottle feed your child in an upright, sitting position.
Fresh air: Don’t expose your baby to cigarette smoke. Try to avoid other forms of air pollution, too, when you can.
Immunizations: Keep up to date on your child’s shots.
Toss the pacifiers: If your baby is using a pacifier after 12 months old, the chance for ear infections increases. Do your best to wean your little one off them.
Wash: Clean your child’s hands and your own often with soap and water. This can reduce the spread of germs and prevent your child from catching the flu or a cold. Another tip, even though it can be very hard: Try to keep dirty objects away from your child’s mouth.
When to Go to a Doctor
Make that call if any of these things are happening with your child:
Fever: Keep a watchful eye for high temperatures. Take action if:
- Your child is younger than 3 months and shows a fever of 100.4 F or more
- It’s above 104 F for any child at any time
- A fever lasts more than a day in a toddler younger than 2
- It lasts more than 3 days in kids 2 and older
Strong pain: Your child is really hurting and pain medicines such as acetaminophen or ibuprofen are not helping.
Discharge: Pus or blood is leaking from your child’s ear.
You are not as likely to get an ear infection as a child. That’s because a grown-up’s Eustachian tubes are larger. And the shape of an adult’s tube means it’s less likely to get clogged.
If you have pain or fluids coming out of your ear, you need to see a doctor as soon as possible.