The signs of ear infection in babies can vary depending on the individual child. It often helps to look for indications of a viral infection, such as a cold, which might be present prior to developing an ear infection. The symptoms are usually related, and they can include crying or screaming, difficulty sleeping, and fever. Some additional ear infection symptoms might include a loss of appetite and clear discharge from the ears. It can be difficult for parents to determine whether their child has an ear infection based on just a few symptoms. Although ear infections are common and often resolve themselves, someone who suspects a serious medical problem is usually advised to consult a physician for a professional diagnosis.
Ear infection, or acute otitis media, is characterized by the swelling of the lining of the middle ear, and a build-up of fluid behind the eardrum. A baby’s Eustachian tubes are smaller than those of an adult. Therefore, they can become blocked easier, which can lead to an ear infection. This condition is extremely common in young children, and the majority experiences an ear infection at least once before the age of four.
Crying, fussing, and irritability are all typical signs of ear infection in babies. Unfortunately for caretakers, these can also be symptoms of several other conditions as well. Tugging at one’s ears, for example, could also indicate that the child is teething. Ear infection in toddlers might be easier to assess, since a talking child can often communicate what is wrong more effectively than an infant who can only cry and give non-verbal clues.
Additional signs of ear infection in babies can include waking at night or sleeping less overall, as well as a decrease in appetite. They may not respond to their parents’ voices or other sounds, and they may experience dizziness or a tendency to fall down. Lying down or otherwise changing position might also cause discomfort by shifting the pressure in the ears. Chewing and sucking are thought to have the same painful effect.
Fever as a sign of ear infection in babies is often disputed. Some physicians believe that only one-third to one-half of children with an ear infection experience fever. Other symptoms to look for can include pus or bloody discharge from the ear. Either of these could actually indicate a ruptured eardrum. Having a fever or even a ruptured eardrum is not necessarily a medical emergency, nevertheless, consulting a doctor is usually recommended, especially if the fever is high.
A recent study concluded that parents could not predict with certainty, based on common symptoms, that their children in fact had ear infections. According to its results, the only way to diagnose with confidence was by detecting fluid in the middle ear using a pneumatic otoscope, and observing a bulging or discolored eardrum. To help detect ear infection in babies, some doctors recommend that parents purchase either a home otoscope or an electronic ear monitor, while other medical experts discourage people from putting anything in their children's ears without first consulting a physician.