Ear infection in babies are common, especially after flu, cold, sinus infection or allergies. Many babies will not require any antibiotics and can be treated with home remedies, such as acetaminophen, warm compresses, and drinking more fluids. Ear infections, which can affect the ear canal or the middle ear, are common in babies. According to a study, 23 percent of babies will experience at least one ear infection by the time they are 12 months old. Ear infections tend to start either with an unhealthful bacterial growth or a viral infection, such as a common cold.
Babies at the age of six months and twelve months old are more prone to ear infections than older children and adults because of their undeveloped immune system and the size and shape of their eustachian tubes. Ear infections are caused by a bacteria or virus and lead to fluid buildup in the eustachian tubes, which prevents them from draining normally from the middle ear.
Ear tugging is not anything to be concerned much about. It might be a sign that your baby is tired or his ears are blocked with wax. If you think it might be due to any ear infection, consult your doctor immediately. Ear tugging can also be a sign of middle ear infection or external ear infection.
What is ear infection?
If your baby cries more than usual, and tugs at ear, he may have an ear infection. An ear infection, or acute otitis media, is a painful inflammation of the middle ear. Most middle ear infections occur between the ear drum and the eustachian tube, which connects the ears, nose, and throat.
Bacterial or viral attack are usually the cause of ear infection. The infection causes inflammation and swelling of the eustachian tube. The tube narrows and fluid builds behind the eardrum, causing pressure and pain. Babies have shorter and narrower eustachian tubes than adults. Also, their tubes are more horizontal, so it’s easier for them to get blocked. Many babies with an ear infection experience a ruptured eardrum. The eardrum usually heals within one to two weeks, and rarely causes permanent damage to the child’s hearing.
Most common types of ear infections in babies are:
- Acute Otitis externa (AOE), commonly known as swimmer's ear, AOE refers to an infection in the ear canal.
- Otitis media, an infection in the middle ear can cause inflammation, leading to a fluid buildup behind the eardrum. Sometimes, the narrow passageways that connect the middle ear to the back of the nose, called the Eustachian tubes, can give bad swell.
- Otitis media with effusion (OME), infection occurs when fluid builds up in the middle ear but does not usually cause pain or fever.
- Acute otitis media (AOM), refers to a fluid buildup in the ear, which typically results from a bacterial infection.
Causes of tugging with ear infection
A middle ear infection can be caused by bacteria or a virus. After an illness such as a cold or flu, fluid can build up in the middle ear, allowing bacteria or viruses that have traveled to the area to multiply and cause an ear infection.
Normally any fluid that enters, drains quickly through the eustachian tubes, which connect the middle ear to the back of the nose and throat. But if a eustachian tube is blocked, that often happens during colds, sinus infections, and even allergies, the fluid gets trapped in the middle ear.
Germs mainly grow in dark, warm, wet places, so a fluid-filled middle ear provides a perfect breeding ground. As the infection gets worse, the inflammation in and behind the eardrum also tends to worsen, making the condition more painful.
Babies are more prone to ear infections because they have short i.e. about 1/2 inch horizontal eustachian tubes. As babies grow to adulthood, their tubes triple in length and become vertical, allowing fluid to drain more easily.
Symptoms of tugging with ear infection
Because babies don't yet have the language skills to let you know how they're feeling, detecting an ear infection is quite hard. Though, ear tugging is not a reliable sign of ear infection. Signs of an ear infection include fussiness, tugging at the ear, fever, and a loss of appetite in your baby. Fortunately, most babies get better in a few days with rest, lots of fluids, and a pain reliever. But if your baby is 6 months or younger, showing symptoms in both ears, or has severe symptoms such as a fever higher than 102°F, consult pediatrician for the treatment.
As a parent, you can even notice the following symptoms:
- Pulling, grabbing, or tugging at the ear. This could be a sign that baby is in pain. Ear infections cause ear pain and discomfort, and in an attempt to alleviate the pain, baby might hit their ear because they have difficulty locating and connecting the pain to the ear.
- The bug that causes the ear infection can also affect the gastrointestinal tract further leading to diarrhea or vomiting.
- Ear infections can cause gastrointestinal upset. They can also make it painful for your baby to swallow and chew. If your baby has an ear infection, he may pull away from the breast or bottle after the first few sips which shows reduced appetite.
- Yellow or whitish fluid draining from the ear. This doesn't happen to most babies, but it is a sure sign of infection. It also signals that a small hole has developed in the eardrum. No need to worry, it will heal once the infection is treated. Although a burst eardrum may sound scary and can be very painful for your baby, the hole is not serious and will usually heal by itself. And the best part is that your baby may start to feel better as fluid drains and pressure decreases.
- You may smell a foul odor coming from your baby’s ear.
- Lying down can make an ear infection more painful because when a baby having ear infection lies down, it causes a shift in pressure in the middle ear. This change in pressure is painful and uncomfortable, which makes sleeping or just lying down flat more difficult for baby.
- Your baby may have a high temperature of 100.4°F or higher. When a child has a temperature of 100°F, it is important to be observant of other common symptoms as their body could be trying to fight off the infection in the ear.
- Due to pain and pressure caused by ear infections, a child may cry, fuss or be more irritable than usual. While more crying could be a sign of any number of problems, be attentive for more symptoms that could prove an ear infection.
- Fluid builds up and sits in the middle ear when a child has an ear infection, which may cause a temporary loss of hearing. For infants and toddlers who are unable to speak, they may be unresponsive to sounds.
Treatments for Baby tugging with ear infection
If you think your baby is pulling his ears because of tiredness, you could try settling the baby for sleep. To get rid of baby’s ear wax, you could try ear drops that you can buy from your pharmacy. You can even use a few drops of olive oil.
If your child has an ear infection, he might need antibiotics. Consult a pediatrician for correct treatment plan. Most ear infections go away without the use of antibiotics. Symptoms typically improve after a couple of days, with full recovery after one to two weeks. If your baby displays the symptoms of an ear infection that don’t go away, fix an appointment to see a primary care physician. Some home remedies are here which can used to ease the ear infection:
- Place a warm, moist compress over your baby’s ear for about 10 to 15 minutes. This may help reduce pain.
- If your baby is older than 6 months, acetaminophen (Tylenol) may help relieve pain and fever. Use the medication as recommended by your doctor. For best results, try giving your child a dose before bed.
- If there is no fluid draining from your baby’s ear and a ruptured eardrum is not suspected, place a few drops of room temperature or slightly warmed olive oil or sesame oil in the affected ear.
- Keep your baby hydrated by offering fluids often. Swallowing can help open the eustachian tube so the trapped fluid can drain.
- Slightly elevate the crib at the head to improve your baby’s sinus drainage. Do not place pillows under your baby’s head. Instead, place a pillow or two under the mattress.
- Homeopathic eardrops containing extracts of ingredients such as garlic, mullein, lavender, and calendula in olive oil may help relieve inflammation and pain.
Preventive measures for Baby tugging with ear infection
There are few steps one can take to lessen the risk of any ear infection in your baby:
- Breastfeed your baby for six to 12 months if possible. Antibodies in your milk can protect your baby from ear infections and a host of other medical conditions.
- Protect your baby from exposure to secondhand smoke, which can make ear infections more severe and more frequent.
- If you bottle feed your baby, hold the infant in a semi-upright position so formula doesn’t flow back into the eustachian tubes. Avoid bottle propping for the same reason.
- Try to avoid exposing your baby to situations where cold and flu bugs abound. If you or someone in your house is sick, wash your hands often to keep the germs away from your baby.
- Make sure your baby’s immunizations are current, including flu shots and pneumococcal vaccines.
- Putting things in the baby's ear, such as cotton swabs, can result in cuts and bruises in the ear canal that can get infected.