Understanding Ear Infections in Kids

Ear infections are one of the more common reasons children are taken to see healthcare providers. But how do you know if your child has one, and is it always necessary to get medical care?

What Are the Signs of an Ear Infection?

Pain in the ear is often the first symptom of an ear infection. But if your child isn’t old enough to tell you that his or her ear hurts, what should you look for?

Common signs of ear infections in young children include:

  • Crying and fussiness
  • Fever
  • Fluid draining from the ear
  • Problems with balance
  • Trouble sleeping, eating or drinking
  • Tugging on the ear

What Causes Ear Infections?

Ear infections develop when there is swelling in the eustachian tubes, which connect the ears to the back of the throat. A cold or other upper respiratory infection can cause the tubes to swell and prevent mucus from draining. This can lead to a buildup of fluid behind the ear drum that can become infected from bacteria or a virus.

Should My Child Get Medical Attention Right Away?

Many healthcare providers recommend waiting a day or two to see if your child’s symptoms improve before making the trip. This is because not all fluid buildup leads to infection, and the condition often goes away on its own. However, if your child has a high fever or you are unsure, call your healthcare provider and describe your child’s symptoms before making a decision.

If your pediatrician’s office is closed or you can’t get an appointment, consider a visit to River’s Edge Express Clinic. The walk-in express care clinic is open later than most physicians’ offices and has weekend hours.

How Are Ear Infections Treated?

Your healthcare provider will ask about your child’s recent health history and do a physical exam. He or she will then consider the following factors when determining a course of treatment:

  • How long your child has had symptoms
  • The severity of your child’s symptoms
  • The type of infection (what is causing the fluid buildup)
  • Your child’s age and any risk factors

Because antibiotics won’t help an infection caused by a virus or get rid of inner ear fluid, the provider might recommend waiting a few days to see if the infection clears up on its own. However, if he or she suspects an acute ear infection caused by bacteria, an antibiotic such as amoxicillin may be prescribed right away. This is usually the case for babies younger than 6 months or toddlers and older children who have severe symptoms. Acetaminophen or ibuprofen can provide relief from earaches for most children, but children younger than 6 months should not use ibuprofen and children younger than 12 weeks shouldn’t use acetaminophen unless directed to do so by a provider.

What Can I Do if My Child Gets Recurring Ear Infections?

If your child gets more than four ear infections per year, your provider might recommend several different options. The first step is often a low dose of antibiotics on a long-term basis to help prevent infections. For more severe situations, many healthcare providers recommend a surgical procedure to place small tubes in the eardrums to help prevent fluid backup. These tubes generally fall out on their own as ears heal, usually within six to nine months.

Sometimes, frequent ear infections are the result of enlarged adenoids—the tissue at the back of the nasal passage that helps trap bacteria. If your child has enlarged adenoids, your doctor might recommend a procedure to remove them.

Need to take your child to see a healthcare provider? The helpful nurse practitioner and physician assistant at River’s Edge Express Clinic are available seven days a week, and no appointment is necessary. The clinic, conveniently located inside the Hilltop Hy-Vee in Mankato, is open Monday–Friday from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. and weekends from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m.

Featured Services

  • person receiving physical therapy

    Physical and Occupational Therapy >

    Our physical therapists are trained to effectively rehabilitate a variety of conditions and will work with you to assess your needs and design a treatment plan to meet your therapy goals.

  • orthopedics

    OrthoEdge >

    The OrthoEdge Joint Replacement Program includes the involvement of your entire care team to help you through the joint replacement process and return you to an active lifestyle as quickly as possible.

  • doctor looking into patients throat

    Emergency Room >

    Emergency Room River’s Edge Hospital Emergency Department is a Level IV Trauma Center that is open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.