Mommy SOS: When to Treat Ear Infections

If you look really close you can see my eye boogies!

I consider myself extremely lucky to have found a pediatrician who’s philosophies are so in synch with my own.. delayed vax? No problem.. stomach virus? Take probiotics.  Ear infection? Wait and see, most clear up on their own..and we’ve been really lucky so far.  Though Jasper is sick more often than not (thank you daycare!) he’s never had to take antibiotics.

A few weeks ago Jasper’s eyes started watering intensely and he has permanent eye goo and crusties. Thinking perhaps seasonal allergies, I brought him in to be checked out. The pedi looked in his ears and says he has a double EI, and with the tubes and sinuses all stuffed it was sort of draining out of his eyes.  He recommended waiting as most of these things clear up on their own, and as Jasper’s behavior wasn’t unusual (except for maybe the occasional night waking) this made sense to me.

Fast forward 2 weeks to Easter Sunday and I was chatting with one of Jasper’s cousin’s mom who’s son has been plagued with ear infections his whole life (had tubes in and removed and may need them again) and was asking her how she knows he has an EI and the first thing she said was that he gets extra clingy.

Ding ding ding!

Today and for the last few days Jasper won’t let me put him down for two seconds… to the point where it’s almost impossible to get ready for work/daycare.  So I’ve been pondering bringing him back to the Dr for another look in his ears to see if things have gotten worse. But then again, he hasn’t been pulling, pointing or otherwise complaining about his ears at all!  He’s been sleeping fairly well, no more night waking, so I’m not sure if this cliginess is cause for concern. If his ears were really bothering him, wouldn’t he tell me? He certainly knows the word for ear!

When your babe gets an EI (or double EI) how do you know when it’s time to visit (or revisit) the pedi? What behavioral changes do you  notice in your little one?

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Michelle says:

Neither of my kids has ever pulled on their ears when they have ear infections. I can usually figure it out after they’ve had a nasty cold with green snot and a wake-up in the middle of the night. They are VERY clingy as well. It’s the night wake-up that usually sends me to the doctor because that indicates something is wrong. Olivia is 18 months and has only had two EI (I think) and she’s in daycare. The second EI involved a sinus infection as well so I gave her antibiotics.

My 4 year old got tubes at 2 1/2 after having 6 months of fluid in his ears after they wouldn’t drain after an EI. The tubes were a godsend and I’d recommend them. With the fluid, he had some hearing loss. One of the tubes recently fell out and the other one is about to. They stayed in pretty long for him.

I try to keep from giving antibiotics, but as a working mom, I want them to sleep (and me) and I want them to be comfortable and be able to go to school/daycare, when able to.

Emilee says:

My kids have never pulled on their ears when they have ear infections. In fact, after days of fever and grumpiness, when I do take them in, I’m ALWAYS surprised that they have an ear infection. I mean, I know they’re sick (hence the visit), but I never pinpoint the ears. (Which is dumb, especially three kids later, but tugging or indicating ear pain in any way is never a symptom for my kids.)

Yvonne says:

I forgot to mention during our conversation on Easter, Ariana, that the thing that pushed me toward getting the ear tubes placed was Zacky’s hearing. He had a severe loss of hearing in the R ear, the one that had been chronically infected. He was almost one and this was a critical time for language development, so we decided to go for the tubes. I have never made a better decision. I did not like him getting oral antibiotics for every ear infection, nor did I like spending the time and money on recurrent doctor’s visits, pharmacy visits, and medication. Once the tubes were in, when he had an infection, the drainage would come out of his ear, I would call the ENT, they would prescribe local drops into the ear, and we were done. After the tubes were in they rechecked his hearing and it was perfect. And I have to say that he has been speaking very well since the time the tubes were placed.

Stephanie says:

I think if your instincts are telling you something isn’t right, it doesn’t hurt to take him back to the doc. My daughter Chloe was plagued with ear infections and I never knew there was a problem until her ear drums ruptured (this happened multiple times, poor little thing) and bloody goo would start dripping out of her ears. Ugh.

I think the thing to keep in mind is that they “usually” clear up without antibiotics, but antibiotics can sometimes be appropriate if it’s a really bad infection. :(

Jaimie says:

My son has had a couple of ear infections – they have always followed particularly miserable colds. Like many here, we noticed him pulling/batting at his ears and waking up screaming in the night, and during the day he would be miserable and clingy. It was hard to determine exactly whether it was the cold or the ear infection bothering him most. We did give him antibiotics. His latest bout he was out of daycare for 6 days, acting lethargic and terribly out of sorts, so we were willing to throw just about anything at the problem!

So glad to hear that you have skipped the drugs altogether for the ear infection and waited it out. Using antibiotics to cure an ear infection can actually lead to it becoming worse. And treating a viral infection with antibiotics is a complete waste of time to begin with.
Can I suggest you try to cure it the natural way. A little bit of garlic in the ear can help alleviate the pain.
Good luck!

angela says:

Yep, it sure is a tricky situation. I have also worried myself to death many times over whether to take them in or not. I have found that whenever I suspected that my kids were indicating that their ears were hurting, they never had an ear infection. But we have had ear infections a few times in both of my children (ages 2 and 4) and each time they have one, I never suspected it. They never complained of pain ever, nor did they pull at their ears. They often accompany or follow a cold. So, I have found that yes they can have ear infections and never show any symptoms. The doctor was even impressed with how yucky my son’s ears were when both were infected when he was 3 and surprised that he never complained. I always feel like, if I am concerned, I take them…just for my peace of mind. I’d rather someone with the expertise tell me my kids are well then me trying to decide. Hope his little ears are better soon.

chantal says:

I haven’t read the link you just posted, but Annora had a bad ear infection about a month ago and I had no idea. I just knew she had a cold and was miserable, and while she didn’t have a fever I could tell she wasn’t feeling well. Enough time had passed that I knew she wasn’t going to get over it on her own so I took her to the doctor and he prescribed antibiotics – he said it was a really bad infection. She hadn’t pulled on her ears or done anything obvious to tell me her ear was bothering her, I just knew she was feeling crappy in general. And I know that if she hadn’t been prescribed medication she wouldn’t have gotten better on her own. It had been close to two weeks and she was getting worse.

ariana says:

hmmm, I just found this online, seems to suggest that for most EIs, antibiotics doesn’t help much anyway:

Now I’m thinking I should give him some pain relief instead!

Meaghan says:

My daughter has had lots of ear infections, at least 7 between 7 and 13 months. She had tubes in in February. She was never able to tell me she had an ear infection and symptoms were different for every one, except she would always eventually wake up screaming in the middle of the night. They always followed a cold, sometimes she would have a fever, sometimes the eye drainage, sometimes excessive clinginess. Usually she would start to look sort of sick – pale, baggy eyes.

My pediatrician told me at that age, they don’t have the ability to localize pain at that point and batting at the ears often meant teething.

At 18 months, maybe they are better at it, but I don’t know. She has had one ear infection since the tubes and couldn’t point it out for me, but it was much easier to figure out since there was drainage. We treated that with drops.

I would never put something in my child’s ear unless directed by the pediatrician.

Shane says:

G hasn’t really had much of a fever w/ his ear infections (low grade along the lines of teething fever). He has pulled on his ears a little, but not enough for us to notice it until after we saw the doc. The clue for us is the eye goop and general fussiness.

Sara B. says:

Marino does, sometimes. He’ll pull on his ears or cover them with this hands.

ariana says:

Also, so can anyone tell me if their little ones actually indicated that the ears themselves hurt?

ariana says:

So interesting about the hydrogen peroxide.. but yeah, I don’t see jasper sitting still and letting me put it in his ear!

I also should say that he didn’t/doesn’t have a fever, though he did during the original cold/virus that caused the EI in the first place, but that was almost a month ago!

Sara B. says:

For us, it always starts with crankiness and then *boom* he’ll have a low-grade fever. For all his illnesses (even sepsis and meninigits), he has never had a fever except when he has an easr infection, so we always know the culprit.

Jennilynn says:

My little sister had chronic ear infections as a kid and we always did the hydrogen peroxide thing when we started to feel clogged up. But I was sorta under the impression that it always bubbles… maybe I was always on the verge of infection? I don’t know how successful putting stuff in a toddler’s ear and keeping him lying down will be, but it works for bigger kids. Rowan has never had an EI, luckily.

pam says:

I never considered not giving my boys antibiotics for their EIs (mom of the year, right here) but their only symptom was screaming bloody murder in the middle of the night, and I like my sleep (and theirs) too much to let them take care of themselves. Fortunately, since they had their tubes put in over a year ago, they’ve only had one or two EIs (among the three of them) so antibiotics have been much less frequent since then.

I wish I could have read this when we were in the thick of chronic EIs, maybe I would have tried one of these suggested by the PPs.

Kimberly says:

The only time James ever had an ear infection (at 6 months) he also had a raging fever, so I just KNEW he had one. I did pick up a tip recently (haven’t tried it) I think on Dr. Oz… it’s both a diagnostic and a treatment… tip the head to the side and pour a bit of hydrogen peroxide into the ear canal. If it bubbles, that indicates an infection, and also helps to clean the ear out and fight the infection. I’d be interested to know if anyone has tried this and if it worked for them???

ariana says:

Thanks Mandoo, maybe I’ll try elevating!

Kelsey, poor Drew :( In addition to his coping failures, does he point, pull, batt or otherwise indicate that the ears themselves are hurting him? I’m just wondering in the absence of that how much it’s bothering Jasper!

mandoo says:

PS – I forgot to specify: we elevate the mattress (so the towels go under the mattress between the springs). Much safer than say, using blocks to prop up the crib itself!

mandoo says:

Our little one has not yet gotten an ear infection so I don’t know what signs to look out for aside from the ones you suggested, but we do keep a few towels to elevate one end of my son’s crib so that he sleeps at a slight incline (like, 2-3 inches). I read somewhere that this helps with “draining” the fluid downward instead of letting it pool in the ears/sinus area. I don’t know if it’s helped us avoid ear infections, but I can say that throughout the winter, we did have a few colds and terrible runny noses and the incline seemed to help keep things flowing out.

Good luck – hope Jasper gets to feeling better soon!

Kelsey says:

I forgot part of my original point about the Mommy Wars. EVERYBODY has advice about ear infections and in our case, we’ve tried pretty much everything. I find that people take it personally when I state that their remedy hasn’t worked for us, so I just say thanks and change the subject! Also, having had a few ear infections as an adult, I am personally hesitant to wait it out too long when my son is demonstrating that he’s in pain… ear infections can be really painful! Thankfully, it sounds like Jasper’s not in serious pain based on your description of his behavior!

Kelsey says:

Ariana, I fear you may have just stumbled into a lesser-known region of the Mommy Wars!

Our son–thanks to his genetics, anatomy, and daycare environment–has had 11 ear infections since September. Some of them have been very minor, while others have led to sustaining high fevers and ruptured ear drums. He also has had hearing tests which showed a 30-40 percent reduction in his ability to hear out of both ears.

The approach that has felt right for us has been a hybrid of chiropractic and medical care. With the news of the hearing loss, we did elect for the tubes surgery when he was 10 months old. His hearing is back to normal (and his language development is zooming forward, thankfully) and any ear infections can now be treated with drops rather than antibiotics.

To answer your specific questions, Drew loses all of his coping skills when he begins to have an ear infection. He upsets VERY easily and simply cries more. It typically follows a cold (which he almost always has). We can identify the ear infection based on these things a few days before the fever comes.

Sorry that Jasper’s not feeling so hot! If it becomes a recurring issue, my only advice is that you have his hearing checked. Good luck!