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Baby Q&As

  1. Expert: Dr. Jennifer Shu
    October 20th, 2008
    What should I do if I suspect my child has an ear infection?

    Most children will have at least one ear infection before they reach three years old. The only way to confirm an ear infection is for a doctor to look at it with an otoscope, but there are several signs that can also point to the diagnosis. 

    1. Ear infections often start out with cold symptoms, such as a runny nose.
    2. There may be a fever over 101 F.
    3. The child may be fussy or crying more than usual, especially when lying down.
    4. There may be signs of ear discomfort or pain, such as the child repeatedly rubbing or pulling at the ear.
    5. There may be discharge (such as pus or even blood) coming from the ear canal, which can signal a ruptured eardrum. This happens occasionally with ear infections and will usually heal on its own within a few weeks.

    If you suspect an ear infection, your doctor can check your child’s ears and make the diagnosis. Children under two years who have an ear infection are typically treated with antibiotics; those over two may be observed to see if they can fight off the infection without antibiotics.

    It may take a few days for the antibiotics to start working. In the meantime, giving a pain reliever such as acetaminophen (Tylenol), or ibuprofen (Advil or Motrin) if the child is older than six months, can help with the pain. Applying a warm compress to the infected ear may also be soothing.

    Your doctor may also prescribe numbing drops to put in the ear. Always check with your doctor before using ear drops because some can be harmful if used when the eardrum has burst.

    Dr. Jennifer Shu is a board-certified pediatrician in Atlanta. Her passion is educating parents on all topics relating to children. Dr. Shu is editor-in-chief of the American Academy of Pediatrics' Baby & Child Health: The Essential Guide from Birth to 11 Years and co-author of the award-winning book Heading Home with Your Newborn and Food Fights.
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