Unfortunately, baby’s don’t come with a manual, which means that as a parent you’re often faced with many situations where you’re just not sure what to do. This is especially true for new parents. One of those situations can be a fussy, irritated, and miserable baby that’s suffering from an earache. When that happens, don’t panic: these tips can help you relieve a baby ear infection and prevent it from happening again.
What Is an Ear Infection?
Ear infections are much more common than you might think. In fact, ear infections happen so often that they’re one of the most common reasons parents take children to the doctor. So what is this common problem that can send your child into a fit of fussing, crying, and all-around discomfort?
Simply put, ear infections are an inflammation of the middle ear. Ear infections are usually caused by bacteria, which creates a fluid build-up behind the eardrum. Ear infections often come after a sore throat, cold, or other respiratory problems when the bacteria spreads to the middle ear.
Symptoms of Ear Infections
It’s so frustrating when your baby seems to be suffering and can’t tell you why. Ear infections might be one of these frustrating situations, but there are a few signs that can help you know that you have a baby ear infection to deal with. These signs include:
- Tugging or pulling on ears
- Crying (more than usual)
- Trouble sleeping
- Fluid draining from the ear
- Balance problems
- Trouble hearing/responding to sounds
- Loss of appetite
Should You See a Doctor?
You can always take your baby to the doctor if it makes you feel better, but it isn’t always necessary with an earache, as these often pass in a few days, especially with some helpful home remedies that we’ll cover later.
With that said, sometimes seeing the doctor for a baby ear infection is a good idea. Take your baby to the doctor for an ear infection if:
- They have a fever of 102.2 degrees Fahrenheit or higher
- You see any discharge of pus, blood, or fluid
- Symptoms continue to worsen
- Symptoms last more than 2-3 days
- You notice any hearing loss in your baby
What About Antibiotics?
It used to be common for babies to be put on antibiotics for ear infections, but these days it’s a lot less common. As we mentioned before, baby earaches usually pass in a few days, and it often isn’t even always necessary to go to the doctor. Unfortunately, the use of antibiotics can make the bacteria responsible for ear infections become resistant to antibiotics, which doesn’t always make antibiotics the best option. Not to mention, there are other adverse symptoms of antibiotics in young children.
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends using antibiotics when:
- A baby ear infection occurs in children younger than six months
- Symptoms are severe
- Symptoms do not improve in 48-72 hours
Here’s How You Can Relieve a Baby Ear Infection
As you can see, it’s definitely not a requirement to run to the doctor’s office and get antibiotics for a baby ear infection. But, that doesn’t mean you want to leave your baby suffering. To help relieve a baby ear infection, follow these tips:
Relieve Pain With a Warm Compress
Using a warm compress on the outside of your baby’s ear can help deliver some much-needed pain relief. You can use a hot water bottle, a heating pack, or simply a cloth dipped in hot water as a warm compress for a baby earache. Make sure to always test out the temperature on yourself before applying anything hot to your baby’s ear.
Garlic is highly anti-inflammatory and has anti-bacterial and anti-viral properties. These properties make garlic useful for relieving pain from a baby earache and helping fight the bacteria or virus causing it. Garlic oil can be found at most health food stores. For a baby earache, apply one drop of garlic to the affected ear a few times a day.
If you don’t want to buy garlic oil or don’t have any, you can also make your own. Finley chopping up some garlic (don’t overdo it) and warm it up with extra virgin olive oil. You should not use this remedy if there is any fluid leaking from the ear, and you should test the warmth in your own ear before putting it in your baby’s ear.
Swallowing can help encourage fluid to move out of your baby’s Eustachian tube, which helps relieve earaches. For babies that are still breastfeeding, you can increase feeding, and the antibodies in the milk will help even more. For formula babies or babies who are past this stage, increase the number of clear fluids.
Give Your Baby an Ear Massage
Who doesn’t love a free massage? Okay, maybe your baby won’t appreciate it as much as an adult would, but massaging your baby’s ear can help relieve their earache. Massaging the outer ear and neck in a downward motion and towards the cheek can help with circulation and fluid drainage. For added benefits, you can use essential oils during your massage. For example, lavender essential oil reduces inflammation and can help reduce ear pain. It’s also calming, which will help soothe your baby.
Use Warm Moist Air
Warm, moist air can reduce swelling, moisten membranes, thin out mucus in the Eustachian tube, and reduce some pressure on the eardrum. For babies, turn on the hot water in your shower until the bathroom is filled with steam, and sit in it (with your baby) with the door closed. For older children, you can fill a sink or bowl with hot water and have them place their nasal passage over the steam. If possible, when using the sink or bowl method, put a towel over the back of the head to trap in more steam.
A humidifier can also be used for this purpose.
Elevate the Bed or Head
Elevating your baby’s head can help with fluid drainage. When doing this, don’t place a pillow under your baby’s head. Instead, place a pillow or two under the mattress. For older children that already use pillows, you can add an extra pillow for elevation.
Many herbal, homeopathic remedies can help relieve baby earache. Two examples are echinacea and goldenseal, both of which fight bacterial infections. There are also homeopathic eardrops that you can buy for this use.
How to Prevent a Baby Ear Infection
Once you’ve watched your baby suffer through one ear infection, you won’t want to do it again. Unfortunately, not all ear infections can be prevented, but following the tips below will help.
Protect Your Baby From Second Hand Smoke
There are many reasons to keep your baby away from second-hand smoke. One reason is that second-hand smoke can increase the chances of an ear infection and make them more severe. The particles in tobacco can congest your baby’s inner ear tube, preventing it from draining fluid properly.
If possible, it’s best to breastfeed your baby for six to 12 months. The antibodies in breastmilk can help prevent ear infections.
Limit Pacifier Use
This might be a hard one, but pacifiers can carry germs and bacteria that can travel to the ear. It’s best to try to only use a pacifier for naptime and bedtime and to make sure it’s always very clean.
Keep Your Baby Upright When Feeding
If you’re feeding your baby using a bottle, whether it’s breastmilk or formula, you want to ensure that their head is higher than their stomach. When a baby drinks from the bottle while lying down, it’s common for the liquid to flow into the ear leading to an infection. This isn’t much of a concern while breastfeeding. When breastfeeding, milk isn’t as likely to pool, and the flow is slower and more controlled than with a bottle.
Provide a Clean and Healthy Environment
Your child is susceptible to everything around them, and the cleaner and healthier their environment, the healthier your baby will be. Try to avoid situations where cold and flu germs are around. If you or someone in your home has a cold or flu, make sure hands are washed frequently so the germs don’t spread.
If possible, when considering daycare services, opt for smaller settings with fewer children. Fewer children mean fewer germs to go around. Ear infections aren’t contagious, but the bacteria and viruses that cause them can be.
Be Proactive With Allergy Care
In some cases, a baby ear infection can be caused by allergies. If your baby is sensitive to allergies, do you best to keep your home as free from allergens as possible. This can mean using hypoallergenic bedding, vacuuming more frequently, grooming pets more often, or other methods to keep allergens at bay.
When things are wrong with your baby, it can be overwhelming. But now you know that a baby ear infection doesn’t have to send you into a panic. Chances are it’ll pass in a few days. From relieving pain to helping fight the bacteria and viruses that cause earaches to preventative measures, with the tips in this article, a baby earache doesn’t stand a chance against you!