Work out why your baby is feeling under par with our expert overview of the signs, causes and treatment of an ear infection.
What is it?
Ear infections occur when bacteria or a virus gets inside the middle ear, which then becomes inflamed and painful. ‘The ear is connected to the throat via the Eustachian tube, so colds and sore throats can commonly affect it,’ says GP Rebekah Gibbons. ‘Particularly as a baby’s Eustachian tube is shorter and wider than in adults, so bacteria can easily travel along it.’
What are the symptoms?
The real problem is your baby can’t tell you her ear hurts but you can look for clues. 'Ear infections can be very painful,' says Rebekah. 'They're a common cause of sleepless nights, so your baby may seem more fractious or tearful than usual and may tug at her ear.'
The good news is most babies outgrow ear infections
Her temperature may be raised, although not always, and she may refuse feeds or pull away from the breast if sucking makes her ear hurt. Ear infections typically follow colds, so a recent snotty nose or sore throat is another clue.
What can you do?
Breastfeeding beyond four months has been shown to lower your baby’s risk of ear infections. Using a dummy may also aggravate the problem by allowing bacteria to travel more easily from the nose to the middle ear, so try to limit dummy use until the infection clears up.
If you’re bottle feeding, keeping your baby in an upright position for up to 30 minutes after a feed can stop fluid collecting at the back of the throat where bacteria will thrive.
Allergens can also cause fluid to build in the nasal passages and middle ear, so hypoallergenic bedding and washing sheets at a high temperature can help reduce this.
See your GP if…
The problem persists for more than a couple of days. 'Most mild ear infections clear up without antibiotics, so it may be that your doctor advises a watch-and-wait approach for a couple of days,' says Rebekah. 'Give your child ibuprofen or paracetamol suspension to ease discomfort.'
The good news is most babies outgrow ear infections as their Eustachian tube becomes longer and narrower, making it harder for germs to get as far as the ear.