Ear infection in children: 6 ways to treat it at home

Ear infections in children are one of the most common health issues. Read what causes it and how you can manage it at home.
Tips to prevent and treat ear infection in children
Follow these tips to prevent and treat ear infection in children. Image courtesy: Adobe Stock
Dr Dhanya Dharmapalan Published: 5 Jun 2023, 11:11 am IST
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An ear infection, also known as otitis media, is a common condition that affects many children. It occurs when the middle ear becomes inflamed and infected, typically as a result of a bacterial or viral infection. Ear infections are more prevalent in children due to the anatomy of their Eustachian tubes, which are shorter and more horizontal than in adults, making it easier for bacteria or viruses to travel from the nose and throat to the middle ear. If you suspect your child has an ear infection, it is important to consult a healthcare professional for an accurate diagnosis and appropriate treatment.

Common causes of ear infections in children

Ear infections are quite common in children. Several factors can contribute to the development of ear infections in children, here are some of them:

1. Respiratory Infections: Ear infections often follow upper respiratory infections, such as the common cold, flu, or sinusitis. The infection-causing bacteria or viruses can spread from the respiratory system to the middle ear through the Eustachian tube, leading to an ear infection.

2. Allergies: Children with allergies, such as hay fever or allergic rhinitis, may have increased inflammation and congestion in the nasal passages and Eustachian tubes. This can impede proper drainage and ventilation of the middle ear, making it more susceptible to infection.

3. Swimming: When children swim, water can enter the ear canal and create a moist environment. This moisture, combined with the presence of bacteria in the water, can increase the risk of developing an ear infection. The condition is commonly known as swimmer’s ear or otitis externa.

4. Exposure to smoke: Secondhand smoke exposure is a known risk factor for ear infections in children. The chemicals and toxins in smoke can irritate and inflame the Eustachian tubes, making them more vulnerable to infection.

Second-hand smoke effect on children
Second-hand smoke can have adverse effects on your family members. Image courtesy: Adobe Stock

5. Daycare attendance: Children who attend daycare or have regular contact with other children are more likely to contract respiratory infections, which can increase the risk of ear infections.

6. Age: Children between the ages of 6 months and 2 years are more prone to ear infections. This is partly because their immune systems are still developing, and their Eustachian tubes are shorter and more horizontal, as mentioned earlier.

Types of ear infection

Ear infections in children can vary in severity, ranging from mild to more severe cases. The severity of an ear infection depends on several factors, including the type of infection, the age of the child, and individual susceptibility. Here are some possible, levels of severity:

1. Mild Infections: Many ear infections in children are mild and resolve on their own without complications or long-lasting effects. Mild infections may cause mild to moderate ear pain, slight hearing impairment, and occasional fussiness or irritability.

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2. Acute Otitis Media (AOM): AOM is a common type of ear infection characterized by the rapid onset of symptoms such as ear pain, fever, fluid buildup behind the eardrum, and sometimes hearing difficulties. With appropriate medical treatment, which may include antibiotics, AOM can usually be resolved within a few days to a couple of weeks.

ear infection in children
Pay attention to the symptoms of ear infections in children. Image courtesy: Adobe Courtesy

3. Recurrent or chronic infections: Some children may experience recurrent ear infections or develop chronic otitis media, where the infection persists or keeps recurring despite treatment. Chronic infections can cause more prolonged symptoms, frequent ear pain, persistent fluid accumulation, and potential hearing problems. In such cases, further evaluation, especially for underlying risk factors including immune deficiency, and treatment, including the consideration of surgical interventions, may be necessary.

How to manage ear infections in children?

Managing children with ear infections involves a combination of at-home care and medical intervention. Here are 6 general tips for managing ear infections in children:

1. Consult a doctor: If you suspect your child has an ear infection, it is important to consult a doctor for an accurate diagnosis and appropriate treatment. The doctor will assess the severity of the infection and determine the best course of action.

2. Follow prescribed medication: If antibiotics are prescribed, ensure that your child takes the medication as directed by the doctor. Completing the full course of antibiotics is essential to effectively treat the infection. Pain-relieving medications, such as paracetamol or ibuprofen, may also be recommended to alleviate discomfort.

3. Provide comfort measures: You can help ease your child’s discomfort by applying warm compresses to the affected ear for short periods of time. Relieve the associated nose block with saline nose drops. Encourage rest and provide a comfortable environment for your child to recover.

4. Avoid irritants: Keep your child away from cigarette smoke or other irritants that can further aggravate the ear infection.

smoking impact on children
Avoid smoking around kids. Image courtesy: Adobe Stock

5. Follow-up with the doctor: It is important to attend any follow-up appointments recommended by the doctor to monitor the progress of the infection and ensure appropriate healing.

6. Vaccination: Vaccinate your child timely against common germs which cause ear infections like H influenza B (Hib) bacteria, pneumococcus bacteria, and Influenza virus.

Other tips to manage ear infections in children

When a child has an ear infection, there are certain things you should keep a check to prevent the worsening of symptoms or complications.

1. Excessive water exposure: During an ear infection, it is advisable to avoid activities that involve excessive water exposure, such as swimming or bathing in pools, lakes, or tubs. Water can enter the ear canal and worsen the infection or delay healing.

2. Inserting objects into the ear: It is crucial to avoid inserting any objects into the ear, including cotton swabs or fingers. These objects can potentially damage the delicate structures of the ear and push bacteria or debris further into the ear canal.

3. Exposure to cigarette smoke and other irritants: Secondhand smoke or other irritants can further irritate the ear and prolong the healing process. It is important to keep your child away from smoke or other substances that may aggravate the condition.

4. Allergens: If your child has known allergies, it is advisable to avoid exposure to allergens that may worsen congestion or inflammation in the nasal passages. This can help prevent complications or additional discomfort associated with the ear infection.

5. Over-the-counter ear drops or remedies without medical advice: It is recommended to consult a healthcare professional before using any over-the-counter ear drops or remedies. Using such products without proper guidance may interfere with the healing process or cause additional complications.

6. Delaying or skipping medical care: It is important not to delay or skip seeking medical care when your child has an ear infection. Prompt evaluation and appropriate treatment from a healthcare professional can help prevent complications and ensure a speedy recovery.

With these tips, you can manage ear infections at home. However, if it gets worse consult your doctor.

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About the Author

Dr Dhanya Dharmapalan Consultant Pediatric Infectious Diseases, Apollo Hospitals, Navi Mumbai. ...Read More

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