Truthfully, the issue with childhood ear infections is not when the kid is old enough to actually tell you that their ear hurts, but when they are so young that they can’t communicate that well.
And the symptoms of a full blown ear infection are so general that they can be easily missed.
There are a cascade of symptoms that will let a parent know that they are dealing with an ear infection. But there are a few things that you should know when dealing with this common childhood problem.
What we are talking about is an infection of the middle ear. That middle is the “media” part of the Latin term Otitis media, incidentally. The problem is from the pressure as much as from an infection.
So the underlying cause can be either bacterial or viral. It really doesn’t matter, especially to the baby.
What the parent needs to know is what to look for, and the good thing is that even in an older communicative child, the signs and predictors are essentially the same.
Initially, there may be cold symptoms. Ear infections almost always come after a cold. It is common to see a color change in the snot from a runny nose. When it goes from clear to yellow or green, plan on an ear infection.
If the baby is fussy either in the day or night or wakes up more frequently at night, you are probably dealing with an ear infection.
If the baby will not lay flat or has a dramatic increase in fussiness with a cold, think about having the ears checked. Usually two or more of these means an ear infection.
Oddly, fever is not a reliable symptom. It is indicative in some cases, but not in others. There is one rather dramatic sign to look for: a bloody or pussy discharge from the ear. This means that the eardrum has ruptured.
Pay very close attention to this next instruction: don’t panic. Invariably, a ruptured eardrum heals completely and has the added advantage of reducing the pain dramatically. So, in the long run, the discharge can be a good thing.
In an infant, pulling at the ears is not a definite sign of an ear infection. Babies can’t usually localize the pain that well, and teething is a much more likely cause of ear pulling. Of course, there is the fact that ear pulling is fun for a baby and they may just like to do it.
The ultimate answer to all of this is a trip to the doctor. Remember, one of the best tools you have as a parent is the judgment of a good pediatrician.