Baby Ear Infection – Causes, Symptoms and Treatment

Baby crying in pain

Ear infections in babies can be a painful experience not just for your little one but you as well. Many parents complain of sleepless nights and missed work before they realise that their baby has had an ear infection all along. Since babies cannot communicate where they feel pain, it is best that you are well versed in the symptoms of ear pain.



What is an Ear Infection?

Ear infection or otitis media (OM) is the infection of the middle ear which is usually caused by bacteria. The bacteria appear when fluid builds up behind the eardrum, generally due to a blocked Eustachian tube. Children are more susceptible to getting an ear infection than adults. In fact, five out of six children will have at least one ear infection before the age of three. Earache in babies is one of the most common reasons why parents take their baby to the doctor.





 Why are Ear Infections Common in Babies?

The Eustachian tube is one of the main components in maintaining balance in the body and is a gateway between the middle ear and the throat. Since the throat is moist, it is a breeding ground for bacteria. Any blockage in the Eustachian tube can cause fluid build-up in the middle ear. As an infant’s tube is relatively small and narrow, it becomes very easy for bacteria to travel to the middle ear and cause infections.

What Causes Ear Infections in Babies?

Baby crying holding his ear

The following reasons cause ear infections in babies:




  • The infection is caused when bacteria infect the fluid build-up in the middle ear.
  • Fluid gets accumulated in the middle ear due to a blocked Eustachian tube.
  • Eustachian tubes are blocked when your baby has a cold, has allergies, or a sinus infection.
  • Usage of a pacifier can increase the occurrence of otitis media in your baby by 33%.

Ear Infection Symptoms in Babies

There are many signs of ear infection in a baby that you can be on a lookout for.

  • Tugging at the ear
  • Nasal discharge
  • Ear discharge
  • Irritability and crankiness
  • Disturbed sleep
  • Fever
  • Crying when laying down
  • Loss of appetite

Treatment for Ear Infections in Babies

Doctor examining baby's ear

The treatment for ear infections in babies includes destroying the bacteria in the middle ear, reducing the blockage of the Eustachian tube, and increasing the general immunity of your baby.





Most doctors will hold off on prescribing antibiotics to treat the ear infection, especially if it is a mild infection. They will instead give your baby painkillers to manage the pain. If the infection continues to show no improvement or becomes more severe in the first 48 to 72 hours, then your doctor might put your child on antibiotics.

Can Ear Infections in Babies Become Serious?

Ear infection can become a more pressing issue if left untreated. A severe infection can rupture the eardrum. A ruptured eardrum will heal itself quickly but will require frequent medical attention to ensure that it is healing correctly.




Why is it Important to Treat Ear Infections Properly?

As with all infections, if left untreated, an ear infection could spread to the rest of the body and create more severe conditions such as mastoiditis or meningitis that will require more medical attention. If antibiotics are used, then the bacteria could gain resistance to the drug if not handled correctly. This could lead to repeated infections that could cause an eventual loss of hearing in your baby.

How to Ease Ear Infection Pain in Young Children With Home Treatment?

There are several ear infection remedies for babies that you can try at home to ease the discomfort and pain that your baby is in.





  • Warm Compress:

Hold a cloth dipped in warm water with the excess water squeezed out on the ear. This will help to ease the discomfort your baby is sure to be feeling with the ear infection.

  • Salt Water:

If your child is old enough, get him to gargle with salt water which will clear the Eustachian tubes as well as soothe the inflamed throat.




  • Warm Oil:

If there is no discharge from the ear and the eardrum is intact, then you can put a few drops of warm oil in your child’s ear. Use olive oil, sesame oil, or garlic oil.

Does Treatment of Ear Tubes Help in Multiple Repeated Ear Infections?

Doctor checking baby's ear

Some babies are prone to multiple ear infections that originate from a single ear infection that hasn’t subsided despite antibiotics. In this scenario, the first step is to see if the primary infection in the ear can be treated with antibiotics. If the infection continues for months on end without abating, then one can look at the ear tubes as a way to provide respite.





This is a procedure where the surgeon will make a tiny incision in your child’s eardrum through which a tube will be inserted. This artificial Eustachian tube acts as a vent and allows in the air while relieving pressure by draining the fluid build-up. Because of this, bacteria cannot thrive in the middle ear.

The ear tube procedure is recommended for children who have the following conditions:




  • Loss of hearing on a certain level
  • A middle ear with structural damage
  • Chronic ear infections or fluid build-up in the idle ear

Discuss the options available with your doctor with regards to the procedure and the various pros and cons.

Are Ear Infections in Children Contagious?

While the actual ear infection is not contagious, an infection that can lead to the inflammation of the Eustachian tube can be infectious. Since children usually are in daycare centres or at the school where many other children are around, it is best that you avoid letting your sick child go to these places as a precaution from spreading the infection to other children.





Are Antibiotics Needed for Preventing Ear Infections in Babies?

Ear drops for baby

Previously, the approach to all ear infections was to prescribe antibiotics immediately. However, with new research, more and more doctors prefer the wait and watch approach. This is due to two reasons. Firstly, a third of all ear infections in children are caused by viruses that are not affected by antibiotics. The second reason is that repeated use of antibiotics can cause the genesis of bacteria that are resistant to antibiotics.

If the child with an ear infection is younger than two years old, then antibiotics are sure to be prescribed. This is done because children of this age cannot communicate if the pain in their ear is getting worse.  Also, children of this age are more susceptible to the complications of an ear infection.




How Long Does it Take to Recover From an Ear Infection?

If your child is given antibiotics, they should start to improve within a few days of beginning the dose. If their condition continues to deteriorate, then you should bring this to the attention of your child’s doctor. In all probability, the doctor will prescribe a stronger set of antibiotics. Under no circumstances are the antibiotics to be discontinued until the full course is over. This is because there may be a few remnants that would have survived and will regain strength if the antibiotics are stopped suddenly.

How to Prevent Baby Ear Infections?

One can make sure that an ear infection doesn’t affect your child in the first place by following the below tips:


1. Staying up to date on vaccinations

Doctor giving vaccination to baby

Many of the infections that cause blockage of the Eustachian tubes can be avoided with vaccinations. Most babies will experience ear pain after a bout of flu. You must talk to your child’s doctor about getting the annual flu shot to stop yearly infections of the flu and ear.

2. Breastfeeding

Woman breastfeeding her baby

It is important to breastfeed your baby for the first six months of his/her life as the breast milk contains antibodies that will help your baby fight infections. These antibodies work only for the first six months.

3. No Smoking

Woman saying NO to smoking

Studiesshow that children who are in an environment that has adults who smoke are more susceptible to infections. This is because the smoke suppresses the immune system of your child and leaves them open to bacterial infections that could cause an ear infection.

4. Avoiding Day Care Centers With a Large Number of Children

Day Care

More the number of children in your child’s daycare, the higher are the chances that one of the children has a contagious illness that your child can catch. Make sure that the number of children in the daycare is small and manageable.


5. Elevating the Head When Drinking

Baby drinking milk

Your child’s head should be above their stomach level. If not, then the fluid could flow back into her Eustachian tube.

6. Preventing  Allergies

Baby having allergy

Try to identify the various allergies your child may have, especially the ones that affect your child’s respiratory system. Do not allow pets in the house, ensure that the baby’s room is free of dust, and use hypoallergenic bedding for your child.

When to Call the Doctor?

Keeping your doctor posted in the first instance is imperative as not doing so can lead to more severe complications. It is best not to delay the right kind of medical attention the infection requires. Your child’s doctor will examine the eardrum with an otoscope. If the eardrum is red and bulging, then it probably means that your child has an ear infection.

The paediatrician could also use a pneumatic otoscope which uses small amounts of air to induce a reaction from the eardrum. If the drum does not move at all, then it is another indication of an ear infection. The doctor will also examine your child’s respiratory tract to see if there is an infection that is contributing to the blockage of the Eustachian tubes.


Ear infections in children are prevalent and painful. An ear infection might seem like a small inconvenience but can lead to several severe complications that could affect the quality of life of your child. Talk to your doctor about the available options in cases of persistent infections.

Also Read: Home Remedies for Ear Infection in Babies