Acute otitis media, or ear infection, is a sudden infection in the middle ear (the space located just behind the eardrum). While anyone can get an ear infection, they’re extremely common in babies and young children because their eustachian tubes (small passageways that connect the throat to the middle ear) are smaller and more horizontal than an adult. The horizontal positioning of these tubes not only makes it more difficult for fluid to drain out of the ear but also makes it easier for bacteria to travel from the nose into the middle ear.
The positioning of these tubes combined with an underdeveloped immune system are the primary reasons why young children have a higher risk of developing ear infections in addition to the common cold. According to the National Institutes of Health, 5 out of 6 children will experience an ear infection before their third birthday. As a person grows, the eustachian tubes begin to naturally slope downward, which decreases the risk of ear infections.
Can an ear infection cause a fever in children?
Since ear infections are common among young children and babies that have a cold, you may also be wondering, “Can an ear infection cause a fever?” The answer is yes. A common sign of an ear infection in children is a fever after the cold symptoms appear. In fact, ear infections can cause temperatures between 100 and 104 degrees Fahrenheit in about 50% of children.
If your child’s fever lasts more than 48 hours, it’s time to get their ears checked by their primary care physician or local urgent care facility.
What other symptoms are commonly associated with an ear infection?
Other symptoms of ear infection include:
- Ear pain
This symptom is easier to diagnose in older children and adults because they can verbalize what’s bothering them. For infants and toddlers who are too young to speak, watch for signs of pain like rubbing or tugging on the ears, more crying than usual, difficulty sleeping, and increased irritability.
- Loss of appetite
Pressure in the middle ear changes when swallowing, which can lead to increased pain and therefore a decreased desire to eat. This may be most noticeable in babies and very young children, especially during bottle or breastfeeding.
- Poor sleep
Pressure in the middle ear may also intensify when laying down, which can lead to increased pain and difficulty sleeping.
- Drainage from the ear
Yellow, brown, or white fluid (that is not earwax) may seep from the ear during an ear infection. This often means the eardrum has ruptured (broken). A ruptured eardrum usually heals within a few weeks without treatment, but always check with your primary care physician or local urgent care because surgical repair may be required to facilitate proper healing.
- Difficulty hearing
Bones of the middle ear connect to nerves that send electrical signals to the brain. When fluid builds up behind the eardrums, the movement of these electrical signals slows down making it more difficult to hear clearly.
How can I prevent ear infections?
The best way to prevent ear infections is to reduce the risk factors associated with them. Here are a few things you can do to help protect you and your child from ear infections:
- Get vaccinated
Stay up to date on your vaccinations and get your child vaccinated against the flu every year to protect them from viral infections, as it could help prevent the onset of an ear infection.
- Keep hands clean
Frequent hand washing prevents the spread of germs and can help keep your child from catching a cold or the flu.
- Avoid exposure to cigarette smoke
Children who are exposed to cigarette smoke, especially in the home, are more likely to get ear infections. Why? Cigarette smoke not only weakens the immune system but also damages tissues in the nose and throat (which makes children and adults more susceptible to infections that affect the ears).
If you have a young child who has been struggling with symptoms of an ear infection for more than 48 hours, please visit Oxford Urgent Care. Our skilled physicians can diagnose and treat ear infections quickly so they can feel better fast.
Visit Oxford Urgent Care for safe, effective ear infection treatment. We welcome walk-in appointments 7 days a week.