If you have children, chances are good they’ve had an ear infection. Health professionals estimate three out of four children will have at least one ear infection by the time they’re three years old. Ear infections are the number one reason parents take their children to the doctor – and spend sleepless nights comforting a fussy child.
Because ear infections often heal without the help of medication, your pediatrician may prescribe antibiotics to treat your child’s ear infection or she may decide to let it run its course. (If your child is younger than two years of age or has cochlear implants, chances are good the doctor will prescribe antibiotics.)
Regardless, an ear infection can be extremely painful for your child and may lead to difficulty sleeping, temporary loss of hearing and an upset stomach. Here are a few things you can do to make your child more comfortable until the antibiotics kick in or your child recovers on his own.
Apply a warm compress. Wet a washcloth in very warm water, wring the water from it and press it gently against your child’s affected ear. Be sure he’s sitting upright so no excess water from the washcloth drips into his ear. You can also use a heating pad as long as your child is old enough to tell you when it’s too hot and you don’t allow him to fall sleep on it.
Administer pain medication. Check with your pediatrician to see what type of pain medication he recommends for your child’s age and weight. Common medications include anti-inflammatory pain relievers such as Advil or Motrin, or acetaminophen such as Tylenol. Your doctor may also prescribe pain relieving ear drops.
Keep them home from school. More than likely, your child’s ear infection occurred as a result of a bad cold or upper-respiratory condition. Keeping them home from school helps prevent other children from catching the virus and suffering the same fate.
Encourage rest and quiet activities. The discomfort your child is experiencing is due to trapped fluid in the middle ear that’s pressing up against his ear drum. More than likely, it will be painful for him to engage in normal childhood play. Encourage quiet activities, such as looking at books, playing with building blocks or watching his favorite television program.
Ear infections are a normal part of childhood; however, if your child has a fever of 101 or higher and is vomiting after 48 hours of treatment, see your doctor. It’s also important to consult your pediatrician if your child has recurrent ear infections. Ear infections are common in children because their Eustachian tubes are short and lie horizontally, making it difficult for excess fluid to drain when the middle ear swells.
Your pediatrician may refer you to an ENT (ear, nose and throat specialist), who may recommend surgically inserting ear tubes so the Eustachian tube can work properly. This procedure will help alleviate the condition until your child can grow and his Eustachian tube develops the vertical tilt necessary to promote good drainage.