Ear Infections in Children: When to See a Doctor


Apr 2, 2019


Being the parent of a young child goes hand in hand with being constantly tired and constantly worried. And while certain ailments are common among children, such as ear infections, it’s still stressful trying to figure out whether you can cure it with home remedies or if it’s time to see a doctor.

Below is a general overview of ear infections in children and how to know when it’s time to see a doctor.

What Is an Ear Infection?

Ear infections occur when there’s a bacteria overgrowth or virus behind the eardrum. The infection causes inflammation inside the ear and a buildup of fluids. As a result, the patient feels a sharp pain. While they do tend to clear up on their own in adults, children with ear infections may need antibiotics to fully heal.

Ear Infection Signs & Symptoms

Depending on their age, the child may be able to tell you if she or he is having ear pain. Yet, if you’re the parent of a baby or an infant, pay attention to the following signs, as they could be an indication of an ear infection:

  • Tugging/pulling the ear
  • Crying frequently
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Irritability
  • Fever
  • Fluid coming out of the ear
  • Loss of appetite

When to See a Doctor

If your child is younger than six months of age, see a doctor as soon as possible. If your child is older, you’ll know it’s time to seek medical attention if the symptoms last for more than a day, you see ear discharge, or the symptoms are accompanied by breathing problems.

Causes of Ear Infections

Ear infections in children tend to come on the heels of the common cold, allergies, a throat infection, acid reflux, or the flu. They occur most often in children between the ages of 2 and 4 because the space inside their ears is more narrow, while their adenoids are larger.

Risk Factors for Developing Ear Infections

Risk factors include age (as explained above), as well as the following:

  • Group child care: It’s no secret that daycare facilities tend to be full of germs. The more the body tries to fight off bacteria, the more likely the adenoids will swell, narrowing the ear canal.
  • Spring and fall. Seasonal allergies increase the probability of ear infections. This is because allergies cause inflammation in the nose and ear canal.
  • Pollution. Cigarette smoke, auto exhaust fumes, and poor indoor air quality increase the risk of ear infections in children. The polluted air affects the respiratory system, which, just as with other types of bacteria, cause the adenoids to swell.

Ear Infection Diagnosis and Treatment

If a doctor suspects that a child has an ear infection, he or she will use an otoscope to look into their ears. Once diagnosed, the doctor will take into account several factors before prescribing antibiotics. Some of these factors include:

  • The child’s age
  • How long the infection has lasted
  • The severity of the infection
  • How often the child has ear infections

Recovery Time for Ear Infections

Ear infections in children typically last between two to three days, unless there are complications.

Complications from Ear Infections

Left untreated, an ear infection can cause the eardrum to rupture. Signs that this has occurred include dizziness, nausea, and ringing in the ears.

More serious complications include:

  • Cysts filled with pus
  • Impaired hearing
  • Spread of infection

Ear Infection Prevention

While ear infections are sometimes unavoidable in young children, you can lower the risk by limiting time spent in large groups with other children, washing their hands regularly, and with seasonal flu shots.

24-Hour Emergency Room Services in Colorado Springs and Texas

If you believe your child may have an ear infection, we can provide the care you need. If you have questions or need immediate treatment, your nearest Complete Care location is ready to help, no matter the time of day or night. We offer a variety of services to help you and your family in your time of need. No appointments are necessary.

Find the Complete Care location nearest you.