January 18, 2024

What’s the Best Way to Treat Pediatric Ear Infections?

Primary Care
Pediatric Ear Infections with baby graphic and ear

Ear infections are a common affliction among children, especially babies and toddlers. What is the best way to treat pediatric ear infections? Heidi Jennrich, Nurse Practitioner in Fort HealthCare’s Pediatric Department, offers important advice for parents and other caregivers.

What Constitutes a “True” Ear Infection?

Jennrich notes that there can be confusion between true otitis media (middle ear infection) and something like swimmer’s ear, where the issue is in the ear canal and not behind the eardrum.

Symptoms typically include pain or an itching sensation in the ears, a wet cough, and fever. Kids who are nonverbal, such as infants, will often appear to be playing with their ears as an indication that an ear infection may be present. They also tend to cry for an unexplainable reason or have trouble sleeping.

“One of my tells on whether I’m more suspicious of true ear infection is what happened last night. If the parent says, ‘I gave them ibuprofen for the pain, but they kept waking up during the night,’ those are babies and kids I’m going to see that next day,” states Jennrich.

Kids who are in a daycare setting generally develop more ear infections than those who aren’t, simply because they are exposed to more colds throughout the year.

Treatment Options

One treatment option for an ear infection is a round of antibiotics. This is the go-to treatment in children under six months of age. However, with the concern surrounding antibiotic resistance, Jennrich notes that she might take a “wait and see” approach with children older than six months. Often, an over-the-counter pain medication like Tylenol or Advil will ease the discomfort and allow the infection to heal on its own.

If children routinely develop ear infections, Jennrich may consider putting in eustachian tubes in order to properly drain fluid in the ears. Per experts, children who have three or more infections in six months or four or more infections in a year might benefit from ear tubes.

“I think the important part in pediatrics is, why do we care about fluid in the ears? Because it affects the hearing,” explains Jennrich. “With babies and toddlers, it’s the most important time that they hear really good, crisp voices so they can start learning the language. If you have fluid in your ears, everything seems muffled and that can affect speech development.”

Prevention Tactics

Jennrich shares the most influential tactic to prevent ear infections: Do not smoke around a child, especially babies. Even residual smoke in a vehicle or enclosed setting increases risk of ear infections in children.

As mentioned, children in daycare typically develop more ear infections because they are around a lot of germs. It’s important for parents to encourage hand-washing among kids who understand what that means. Jennrich also encourages breastfeeding as it helps boost a baby’s immune system.

Inevitably, ear infections will occur. But with prevention tactics and treatment options, children don’t have to suffer in the long term.