How to Protect Your Child from Ear Infections
It is very common for young children to develop ear infections. In fact, the majority (over 80%) of children experience at least one ear infection before the age of three. As any parent with a child who has had an ear infection knows, this health condition can cause your child to go through quite a bit of distress and pain. So, while it may seem inevitable that your child will experience an ear infection at some during childhood, there are steps that you can take to reduce their risk. First, it’s important to know if the symptoms that your child is experiencing are indicative of an ear infection.
Ear Infection Symptoms in Young Children
Determining the cause of your child’s symptoms can be difficult if you don’t know what to look out for, especially when children have not yet developed their ability to communicate through speech. An older child will simply tell you that their ear hurts and will be able to describe other symptoms. An infant or toddler will let you know in other ways when they have an ear infection. Signs and symptoms to look out for include:
- Tugging on ears
- Unusual crankiness
- Symptoms show up after a cold or other respiratory infection
- Fever above 39°C
- Symptoms become worse when lying down
- Fluid coming out of ears
- Difficulty sleeping
- Diminished appetite
- Diminished response to sound
- In some cases, vomiting or diarrhea
Reducing Your Child’s Risk of Ear Infections
There is no guarantee that your child will never get an ear infection. However, there are certainly things that you can do lower your child’s risk. The following suggestions may help:
- Breastfeed when possible. Multiple studies have shown the benefits of breastfeeding over bottle feeding when it comes to a child’s overall health. Reducing the risk of ear infections is one health benefit that breastfeeding provides. Breastfeeding exclusively, especially in the infant’s first year, is important.
- Boost immunity. Ear infections are not contagious. However, since ear infections often follow an illness such as the common cold or flu, your child will be less susceptible to ear infections if you can keep them from getting sick with these illnesses. While young children have not fully developed their immune systems, you can provide their bodies with an extra boost by feeding your children healthy foods (as mentioned, in the case of infants, breast milk is best), making sure they get restful sleep, and maintaining other healthy habits.
- Avoid smoke. Cigarette smoke and other types of tobacco significantly compromise the health of a child’s Eustachian tubes, causing mucus to build up in the middle-ear space. This inevitably leads to an ear infection.
- Improve hygiene. Again, ear infections are not contagious, but germs and bacteria that lead to the common cold or other illnesses are contagious. Therefore, it is important to teach your children to wash their hands regularly and to not share cups with other children, for example.
- Smaller daycare facilities. If possible, avoid large daycare centers since this will only increase your child’s risk of getting a cold or another illness. Children in daycare tend to get far more ear infections than those who are not.
- Remove allergens from the home. If it is possible that allergies may be causing an ear infection, then be sure to regularly clean allergens from your home. Dust and pet hair are two common allergens that can lead to ear infections.
By following these tips, you will reduce your child’s risk of developing ear infections. If your child has ear infections often, be sure to talk with your pediatrician or an ENT specialist to determine what other factors may be contributing to the problem.
Images: Kathryn Rossiter
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