Earaches in babies are not uncommon. But a baby's inability to communicate symptoms can leave most parents feeling helpless. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, three-fourths of babies will get at least one ear infection before the age of one.
"If your baby gets three ear infections in six months or four in one year, it may be time to consider ear tubes," says Andrew Hotaling, MD, FACS, FAAP, pediatric otolaryngologist at Loyola University Health System. "It is unusual for chronic earaches to lead to temporary hearing loss or even deafness but other health maladies can occur." Otolaryngology is the study of the ear, nose and throat (ENT).
It is also important to be aware of the frequency and severity of ear infections to prevent speech delay.
"Hearing disorders can lead to impediments in speech development and other growth milestones," says Dr. Hotaling. "The ear infections are usually located in the middle ear."
Dr. Hotaling offers these indications that your little one may have ear problems:
Pulling or tugging at ears
"Teething pain can also hit trigger points in the ears, causing confusion as to the health problem," says Dr. Hotaling, a professor at Loyola University Chicago Stritch School of Medicine. "Excessive drooling, swollen gums and excessive mouthing of objects can indicate a new tooth is coming in."
Pediatricians are usually the first medical practitioners to look at ears for inflammation, middle ear fluid or if the ear-drum doesn't move well. Causes for ear infections include several different types of bacteria and viruses. "Certain areas in the U.S., including the Chicago area where Loyola is located, are seeing an outbreak of pediatric respiratory syncytial virus (RSV)," says Dr. Hotaling who has practiced for more than 30 years. "While RSV causes cold-like symptoms, it does not result in ear infections."
Dr. Hotaling recommends ear infections be treated with antibiotics in very young children.
"Antibiotics should only be prescribed if the ear infection cannot be cleared without them," he says. "Incorrectly administering antibiotics can cause further harm." Dr. Hotaling prefers not to prescribe antibiotics to older children to avoid building up a potential overexposure which can result in unresponsiveness as a medication over time.
Anti-inflammatory pediatric versions of acetaminophen and ibuprofen can be administered at home to provide relief. Applied heat to the outer ear, using a warm, not hot, wash cloth compress or brief use of a warm, not hot, heating pad or water bottle, can also provide comfort.
"When a baby or child has chronic ear infections that do not go away, putting in tubes is usually an appropriate treatment," says Dr. Hotaling. "It is a common outpatient procedure, requiring anesthesia, and takes less than 15 minutes. The child goes home in less than an hour."
Tubes are placed in the ear to offer ventilation to prevent fluid build-up and allow for drainage and ventilation. Tubes are usually used short-term, last six months to a year, and usually fall out on their own. Longer-term tubes also are used and removed when appropriate by an otolaryngologist.
Loyola's ENT physicians treat children and adults with disturbances in hearing, balance, smell and taste; allergies; head and neck injuries; cancer of the head and neck; voice and swallowing disorders, and sleep disorders. The department has a reputation for achieving excellent results in endoscopic sinus surgery. Other surgical treatments performed include nasal surgery, skull-base surgery and reconstructive surgery of the head and neck as well as implantation of hearing devices for the middle ear and cochlear implants.
Source: Loyola University Health System