How to Determine if a Newborn has an Ear Infection
An ear infection is a painful inflammatory reaction of the middle ear (located behind the eardrum), generally caused by bacteria. The medical term is otitis media and anyone can suffer from it; however, infants and children are more likely to be affected than adults. This is one of the main causes that lead parents to bring their baby to the emergency room for treatment. This disorder has obvious symptoms that can help you understand if your child is affected. If you fear that the child has average otitis, you must make an appointment with the doctor or paediatrician.
Recognize the characteristic symptoms
1) Pay attention to a sudden pain in the ear.
The main and characteristic symptom of an ear infection is a rapid manifestation of pain due to fluid accumulation, which occurs as an inflammatory reaction. The baby starts crying suddenly showing some slight sign of discomfort. Suffering is generally stronger when the baby is lying, especially if the affected ear is in contact with the pillow; then prepare for the fact that you will have difficulty sleeping.
Try to keep the baby in a supine position when sleeping, with the head slightly raised, so as not to make the pain worse.
In addition to crying as an answer to suffering, the baby could also tug or pull the ear; therefore also controls this behaviour, because it could be a sign of discomfort.
2) Be suspicious if you are more irritable than usual.
In addition to more crying, it may also show other non-verbal signs of discomfort, such as increased irritability, discomfort or cold-like symptoms. This irascible phase precedes by a few hours that of crying and may coincide with the moment when the baby wakes up from a nap or fails to fall asleep. When inflammation in the ear begins to develop, the sensation of pressure or fullness within the canal increases, ending in excruciating, acute pain. A headache is also quite frequent and can aggravate the child’s discomfort, making him surly for anything, especially because he is not yet able to express himself well.
Moderate mild otitis is usually preceded by sore throats, colds or other disorders of the upper respiratory tract (allergies). Hence the infection or mucus is transferred into the middle ear through the Eustachian tubes, which connect the ear to the pharynx.
Some infants who suffer from otitis media may also experience vomiting or diarrhoea.
Sometimes even bacteria, viruses, allergic reactions to foods (milk) and environmental triggers can cause an infection that spreads to the middle ear.
3) Pay attention if the child loses his hearing or reacts to noise.
When the ear canal becomes filled with fluid and/or mucus, hearing capacity is reduced. Consequently, you have to check whether the child perceives the sounds less, seems inattentive or does not react to loud noises. Call it by name or clap your hands and check if you pay attention. Otherwise, it could be a symptom of ear infection, especially if you see that it is always annoyed or grumpy.
In addition to a temporary loss of hearing, the baby could show problems with his usual ability to balance. The internal structures of the ear are in fact responsible for the balance; therefore, in case of inflammation, this function can be compromised. See how you crawl or sit – if you lean on your side or fall completely, it could be otitis.
Children suffer more often from ear infections than adults because their immune system is not yet developed; their Eustachian tubes are smaller and still not very active, so they are more susceptible to congestion and are not able to properly drain fluids.
4) Check if you have a fever.
Fever is a physiological reaction of the organism to fight pathogenic microorganisms (bacteria, viruses, fungi), preventing them from reproducing and spreading, since most of these do not survive at high temperatures. Fever is therefore almost always a positive sign but also indicates that the child is fighting against some external agent. Measure the fever with a thermometer. If the temperature is 37.7 ° C or higher, it may indicate an ear infection (or many other diseases).
Do not measure the temperature with an infrared ear thermometer if you suspect it has otitis. Hot fluids (inflammation) accumulated inside the middle ear can heat the eardrum and you may get inaccurate and too high results. You must instead use a standard thermometer to put under the armpit, on the forehead or use the rectal one if you want to get a very precise result.
In addition to fever, expect other signs and symptoms, such as loss of appetite, reddened skin (especially on the face), increased thirst and irritability.
Find Confirm by the Doctor
5) Consult the family doctor or paediatrician.
If you’ve noticed that the symptoms and signs described so far persist for a few days (and your parent’s instincts alert you), make an appointment with the doctor. This is the safest way to determine if the newborn actually has an ear infection or some other illness that requires treatment. The doctor will use an instrument with the light, called an otoscope, to observe the inside of the ear canal and the eardrum. If the latter appears red and swollen, there is an ongoing infection.
The paediatrician can also use a special pneumatic otoscope, which blows a stream of air into the outer ear canal towards the eardrum. Under normal conditions, the eardrum should oscillate in response to the air flow, but if there is fluid accumulation behind the membrane, it will not make any movements or perhaps remain motionless.
If you see the fluid, pus or blood coming out of the ear, it means that the infection is more severe or in an advanced state. In this case, you must immediately bring the baby to the emergency room or to the pediatric hospital without waiting to make an appointment with the doctor. However, call the paediatrician first, because you might be willing to visit the baby immediately.
6) Tell your doctor about the advantages and disadvantages of antibiotics.
In reality, most ear infections in children/babies resolve without the need for any treatment such as antibiotics. The most appropriate treatment for your child depends on many factors, including the age and severity of the symptoms. The average otitis in children usually begins to shrink within a couple of days and almost always resolves without antibiotics within one to two weeks. In most cases, experts recommend a wait-and-see approach when the baby is older than six months, shows mild pain in the ear for less than 48 hours, and body temperature does not reach 39 ° C.
Amoxicillin is the antibiotic that is prescribed more often to children with otitis and should be taken for 7-10 days.
Keep in mind that antibiotics are only useful in case of bacterial infections and are not suitable for viral, fungal or allergic reactions.
The downside of these drugs is that they do not cure the infection completely; sometimes bacterial strains resistant to the antibiotic may remain, which can aggravate the infection.
In addition, they also kill the “good” bacteria of the gastrointestinal tract, causing digestive problems and diarrhoea.
An alternative to antibiotics is a treatment based on auricular drops to be administered in combination with small doses of paracetamol for oral use.
7) Get a specialist visit prescribed.
The paediatrician may send you to an ear, nose and throat specialist (otorhinolaryngologist), if the problem of the newborn lasts a long time, does not resolve with the common treatments or if the infection develops with a certain frequency. Most of the average otitis does not create long-term problems, but if it is frequent or persistent it can lead to serious complications, such as hearing loss, developmental delays (ability to speak), the spread of infection or even tearing / perforation of the tympanum.
The torn or perforated eardrum often heals by itself, but sometimes surgery is required.
If the baby experiences frequent ear infections (three episodes in six months or four years in a year), the specialist will probably recommend that the fluid is drained from the middle ear through a thin tube (myringotomy).
The tube is inserted into the eardrum to prevent further accumulation of fluids and consequent infections. Usually, it detaches itself after about a year.
If this problem does not solve the problem and infections continue to occur, the otolaryngologist may decide to remove the adenoids (which are behind the nose and above the palate), to prevent infections from spreading through the Eustachian tubes until in the ears.
Place a damp, warm cloth on the baby’s sick ear to reduce pain and discomfort.
Babies who attend kindergartens are more likely to catch a cold and therefore suffer from ear infections because they are exposed to a greater number of childhood illnesses.
Infants fed with infant formula (especially when they are lying down) get sick more often than average otitis compared to those who are breastfed.
Ear infections occur most often during autumn and winter when the cold and flu are more active and virulent.
Do not expose your child to cigarette smoke. Research has shown that infants living with smokers develop more frequent ear infections.