How to Protect Your Child from Ear Infections

An ear infection is the most common illness in babies and young children. In fact, 94 percent will experience the problem by age 2. Many of these children will develop three or more infections before they reach the age of 3.

Watch for These Symptoms

In an ear infection, the tube that connects the upper part of the throat to the middle ear—the eustachian tube—becomes swollen, trapping fluid in the ear. The pressure that results causes the pain of an earache. If bacteria or viruses grow in the trapped fluid, infection results.

Warning signs of an ear infection may include:

  • Irritability

  • Difficulty sleeping

  • Tugging at the ear

  • Fever

  • Fluid draining from the ear

  • Loss of balance

  • Hearing difficulty.

Have You Heard About These Preventive Steps?

One major factor that can increase a child’s chances of an ear infection is age—the peak age is 6 months to about 1 year. Kids who attend day care also face a higher risk, since they’re regularly exposed to germs carried by other children. Other risk factors include frequent colds or other infections, exposure to secondhand smoke, a family history of ear infections, and not being breast-fed. Also, boys are more prone to ear infections than girls.

What can parents do to prevent ear infection?

  • Put babies to sleep on their backs to aid draining of the eustachian tubes.

  • Try to keep your children away from secondhand smoke.

  • Wash your hands frequently, and make sure caregivers do the same.

  • Consider breast-feeding your infant for at least three months.

  • Keep your baby upright when feeding him or her from a bottle.

If your child shows signs of an ear infection, call the doctor. Bacterial infections may require antibiotics. Doctors may also prescribe pain relievers or eardrops. Warm or cold packs can help the pain, as can keeping the child’s head propped up. If left untreated, an ear infection could result in permanent hearing loss.


Online Medical Reviewer: Florence Desrosiers, MD

Date Last Reviewed: 3/26/2010

© 2000-2018 The StayWell Company, LLC. 800 Township Line Road, Yardley, PA 19067. All rights reserved. This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your healthcare professional's instructions.

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