8 Common Signs of Ear Infection in Babies

An ear infection or otitis media (OM) happens when the middle ear, or the space behind the eardrum and the eustachian tube, becomes inflamed due to virus or bacteria build-up. This may be triggered by a cold, an allergy, acid reflux or a throat infection.

Anyone may have an ear infection, but it’s more common in children than in adults. In fact, the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders (NIDCD) says that five out of six children suffer from an ear infection before turning three. Children have smaller and narrower eustachian tubes, so it’s easier for viruses and bacteria to find their way into their ears. This is also why their ears get blocked and become swollen faster than adults do.

How Long Does an Ear Infection Last?

Ear infections may last from two to three days, even without medicine or any form of treatment. However, more severe cases of ear infections may last longer, usually six weeks or longer even after taking antibiotics.

What Are the Common Signs of Ear Infection in Babies?

The following signs may indicate that your baby has an ear infection:
  • crying more than usual
  • ear pain
  • fever
  • fluid or pus coming out of the ear
  • having a hard time eating or drinking
  • irritability
  • pulling or rubbing the ear often
  • sleeping difficulties

How Do Doctors Diagnose Ear Infections?

While most cases of an ear infection are not severe, we recommend that you see a pediatrician as soon as you see signs of an ear infection in your child, rather than wait for it to get worse. To be able to diagnose your child’s condition, the doctor may conduct a physical exam and use an otoscope, a device similar to a flashlight, to check the baby’s eardrum. The doctor may also ask you some questions to learn about the frequency and duration of your baby’s ear infection, any potential risk factors and more.

What Are the Treatment Options for Ear Infection in Babies?

Once confirmed that your baby has an ear infection, the doctor may advise any of the following treatment options:
  • Antibiotics
  • Ear drops
  • Ear tube surgery (for more severe cases)

How Can You Prevent Ear Infections in Children?

You can do several things to help lower your child’s risk of developing an ear infection, such as
  • Observing good hygiene, including washing your and your baby’s hands regularly and sanitizing your home
  • Keeping your child away from other kids who have a cold
  • Protecting your child against secondhand smoking
  • Breastfeeding your baby during his/her first year
  • Practicing proper bottle positioning (if you are bottle feeding your baby) to keep the milk from flowing into the eustachian tubes
  • Getting vaccinations for meningitis, influenza and pneumonia

Final Thoughts

Ear infections may lead to more serious health issues and complications when left untreated. These may include loss of hearing, a cyst in the middle ear, a drainage from a hole in the eardrums, hardening of some tissues in the ear, facial paralysis, brain inflammation and damage to the bones in the middle ear. Please seek professional help as soon as you see signs of an ear infection in your baby to prevent greater health risks from affecting your child’s quality of life. Your child deserves a healthy and physical pain-free life, and we’re here to help. Your child’s safe care is our #1 priority.

National Institute of Deafness and Other Communication Disorders
Harvard Health Publishing