One of the worst struggles a child can endure is an inner ear infection. It may not sound like much, but when you are in severe pain for days at a time with little sleep and a high fever, it can be agonizing for anyone. Ear infections are most common in children and are generally outgrown over time. There are clear stages of an ear infection, so it is best to be prepared throughout the process. Ear infections generally heal on their own, so be sure to not have an over-diagnosis of the problem. It is actually better to avoid antibiotics for an ear infection and to mainly focus on treating the pain.

The ear is divided into three parts. There is the outer ear canal, the middle ear (where infections occur), and the inner ear (where nerves and balance centers are). The delicate eardrum divides the outer and middle ear. The middle ear contains small bones that connect to the drum. The bones vibrate against the drum and that is how we hear things. This part is also connected to the back of the nose through the Eustachian tube.

In children, the Eustachian tube is just developing, so it is much shorter and angled. It is much easier for bacteria to travel from the nose to the throat, and up to the middle ear. As a child evolves, the tube becomes elongated, so germs would have to travel upward to reach the middle ear. This is a reason why we outgrow ear infections.

How to Diagnose Your Child’s Ear Infection

  • Your child may get a cold before any symptoms of an ear infection, this is quite common, and it’s best to be prepared.
  • A common sign of any infection is if they have trouble sleeping or are irritated throughout their normal routines
  • If they start complaining about ear pain or hearing loss, it’s a clear cut sign they need to be treated.
  • Restlessness and discomfort are cohabitants of ear infections, so do your best to ease their irritable journey.
  • Fevers are most common within the first few days of an infection, they are usually low grade (101º- 102º), but not guaranteed.
  • Ear drainage is a telltale sign of a bad infection. If there is puss or blood coming out of their ears, it could signal a ruptured ear- drum. There is no need to panic as these generally heal just fine. Once the eardrum ruptures, the pain is minimized.
  • On the other hand, if the child is teething or pulls on their ears out of fascination, they can confuse the ear soreness for other parts of their head. Be on look out for this as to not go overboard with treatment.

What About Antibiotics?

Doctors tend to over-diagnose ear infections and prescribe antibiotics to a problem —that isn’t necessarily the best option. If an infection is present, according to CBS News Medical Correspondent Dr. Jennifer Ashton, most ear infections are viral in nature and won’t respond to antibiotics anyway. “It requires a lot of patience on the part of both the doctor and the parents to let it run its course. And most ear infections are caused by viruses, which don’t get treated with antibiotics,” she said. “But most will get better on their own.”

Consumer reports say antibiotics for ear infections can build resistance and can lead to more infections. The AAP Guidelines now state that antibiotics should not be prescribed unless there is an obvious ear infection – a very bulging tympanic membrane.

It is only advised to get antibiotics if:

  • Your child is under 2 years old
  • Their fever is above 102 degrees
  • There is ear drainage
  • The infection is in both ears

The main focus of an ear infection is pain relief. Antibiotics do not provide relief within the first 24 hours. Children should be given ibuprofen or Tylenol, sometimes prescription ear drops can help ease the pain. If you are looking for a natural remedy, a recent study from Washington State University found that a compound in garlic is 100 times more effective than the two most commonly used antibiotics in treating infections. Often times, it worked in a fraction of the time, and there was no risk for resistance.

“Garlic contains alliin and allinase. When a whole clove is chopped or crushed these compounds combine to form allicin, a natural anesthetic that can provide a measure of relief while garlic treats the infection.”

To treat the pain directly, you can drop garlic oil into the ear directly. The warmth of garlic oil helps to reduce the pain (as does lavender oil) and can be used once an hour. Use at least four times a day, but preferably six or more, until the child is well. You can find garlic oil at your local health-foods store. Do NOT put anything in an ear that is perforated. Garlic can be ingested as well if there is a hole in the eardrum.

Use these remedies in good measure and always get a second opinion when it comes to ear infections. Above all, do your best to distract your child from their pain and be there when they need you. All signs of the infection will go away within a couple of weeks, so be patient and stay strong for your child. The end of the process will be highly rewarding and the both of you will feel much better for it!