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Ear infection in babies: Common signs to watch out for

Are you wondering if your baby has hearing problems or an ear infection? Here are some of the common signs you can look out for.

Baby ear pain is a common ailment for babies since they can be very prone to infection during this stage. Ear infections are very common and generally occur in babies between six months to three years of age. It is mostly due to a bacterial or viral infection in the middle ear. Ear pain in babies can be very distressing, causing your little one to cry and fuss incessantly. If you suspect that your baby’s crying could be because of an ear infection, watch out for these telling symptoms.

How do ear infections begin?

The main reason for ear infection in babies is their undeveloped immune system and the flat shape of the Eustachian tube in their ears. This tube connects the middle ear with the back portion of the nose and any block results in fluids getting accumulated in the ear with no way of draining out. In some cases, adenoids, which are a part of the lymphatic system and are located at the back of the neck, are larger for babies. They often obstruct the opening of the Eustachian tubes.

In many cases, ear discharge in babies can occur from a persistent common cold and this fluid can get trapped in the middle ear. The area then gets affected by bacteria or virus, resulting in the inflammation of the eardrums. The good news is that even though these infections are bothersome, they are neither serious nor contagious.

Common symptoms to watch out for

An older child with speaking abilities can complain about the problem but a very young baby will not be able to articulate themselves. While dealing with ear infection in babies, here are some important signs to watch out for.

  • A younger child may point at their ear or tug it as it gets painful. Your baby might cry more than usual and get fussier about eating and other daily activities. With severe infections in the ear, they can also get irritable and become difficult to handle.
  • In many cases, middle ear infections are also accompanied by fever. Even if there is no fever, symptoms like vomiting and lack of energy can also be brought on by the infection.
  • As movement of the mouth and jaw can become painful for a baby with ear infection symptoms, activities like chewing, sucking and drinking can result in severe discomfort. This will result in a decrease in appetite for food and at times, your baby may show symptoms of diarrhoea. This type of infection can also be accompanied by a general loss in the sense of balance for your baby.
  • An ear infection is also likely to affect the normal sleep patterns of the baby; your little one is likely to stay awake for longer hours. Even if he or she settles down to sleep, it would be a disturbed sleep. This is because when lying down, the fluid pressure on the Eustachian tube increases, resulting in discomfort.
  • Another symptom of ear infections and baby ear pain is the loss of hearing in the infected ear. This may prevent your baby from responding to familiar sounds in a normal manner. This is a temporary problem and you can be rest assured that the hearing will be restored once the infection goes down.
  • Due to excess fluid accumulation and the pressure that builds up, your baby’s eardrum can burst, resulting in a discharge of pus from the ear. It is critical that you immediately consult a doctor in such cases. Even though this scenario sounds scary, your baby will actually start feeling better after this as the fluid pressure in the ear drops due to the leakage. A ruptured eardrum usually heals within a few weeks and the damage is not permanent in most cases.
  • If you still have doubts about the reason for your child’s discomfort and whether the baby ear infection symptoms you are observing are actual or not, it is best to consult with a paediatrician. A detailed inspection of the eardrum by trained eyes will reveal the true cause of any baby ear pain.

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Preventive measures against ear infection in babies

Now that we are aware of the symptoms for ear infection in babies and signs to watch out for, what can parents do to combat it?

Whatever be the symptoms, do not provide over-the-counter medicines to your little one without consulting the doctor. The general treatment is through antibiotics but many paediatricians do not prescribe antibiotics for minor ear infections. Such infections may heal naturally within 48 to 72 hours and hence a period of “watchful waiting” is often recommended. Keep in mind that if your baby is less than 4 months old, it is best to visit the doctor immediately for any fever. In addition, there are several other preventive steps parents can take to minimise infections and ear discharge in babies.

  • Breastfeeding during the first year is very important for transferring antibodies from the mother to the baby.  This reduces the overall chance of infections.
  • While feeding from a bottle, it is best to keep the baby in an upright posture. Milk or water can flow into the ear if the baby is lying down. Moreover, do not allow the baby to fall asleep with a bottle in their mouth.
  • Take necessary precautions to ensure your baby doesn’t catch a cold. Maintain hygiene and wash your little one’s hands frequently.
  • Keep your baby away from polluted environments and cigarette smoke. Some studies have revealed that exposure to smoke and pollution can increase the chances of ear discharge in babies.
  • In case your baby suffers from allergies, keep them in check. The extra mucus generated from an allergic reaction can choke their Eustachian tubes.
  • Pneumococcal vaccination and annual vaccination against flu for babies at the appropriate age can reduce the chances of an ear infection. Consult the doctor to decide which vaccinations are best for your baby.
  • While preventing ear infection in babies, the signs to watch out for are not only in your own baby but also in his or her playmates. It is best not to allow sick children to play in a group. Limit your little one’s exposure to other children in case of any infection in them or in the others.
  • Do not put any foreign objects like cotton buds or swabs in your baby’s ear. In case of any injuries or cuts, there is a chance of infection occurring in the ear.

A few preventive steps can go a long way to keep your baby safe and healthy from infections. Once the pain and discomfort is gone, visit the doctor after 4 to 6 weeks, to ensure that your baby’s ear is completely healed.

Make sure that you comfort your baby to the best possible extent to relieve the pain and allow her or him as much rest as possible. Ear infections are one of the most common ailments in a baby but with the right steps and care, your baby can easily overcome it within a few days. Head over to mfine to consult the city’s top paediatricians for ailments your baby may have.

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