The Latest
July 21, 2024

Where Every Family Matters

Ear Infections Are Often Hard to Detect in Children

The "hallmark" of Acute Otitis Media (a middle ear infection) is a fever that spikes at 102 or higher. Know when it's time to phone the doctor.

Shrill crying pierces the silence of the night. Your little guy’s awake and needs you! You tear to his room, gather him to you, but wait, he’s hot. You try a bottle, a clean diaper; he’s still not comfortable. Is he teething? Could it be an ear infection?

Many Fevers Exceed 102 Degrees

It’s hard to know if your baby has an ear infection or not. Some babies may exhibit no symptoms (such as tugging at the ear), or just a little crankiness. Others may be exceedingly fussy. A fever is an indicator of infection for sure.

“A fever is the hallmark of ear infections, with many children exceeding 102 degrees,” says Siva Chinnadurai, M.D., MPH, associate professor of otolaryngology at Vanderbilt University Medical Center. A fever may be just the first sign, though. Chinnadurai says a loss in appetite is also a sign of a possible ear infection. Of course, she says pulling or tugging at the ears is common, and yet that’s seen with teething, too.

No matter what, if your baby has a fever, reduce it with a little infant ibuprofen and call your doctor. Acute Otitis Media (AOM) is a very common middle ear infection caused by fluid that’s trapped behind the eardrum, and it will take antibiotics to zap.
“Fluid behind the eardrum is so common in children that there’s a direct need for an accessible and accurate screening tool that can be used at home or in clinical settings,” said Sharat Raju, M.D., a surgical resident in otolaryngolgy-head and neck surgery at the University of Washington School of Medicine.
Raju a team of researchers developed and created a smart phone app that can detect ear infections in kids — it isn’t available yet, but the technology is here. It just needs approval from the Food and Drug Administration.



Did you know that a major, preventable contributor to ear infections is exposure to cigarette smoke? “While smoke irritates the lining of the ears, it also prevents the natural cleaning function of the ears,” says Chinnadurai. “This increases fluid in the ears and prevents it from being cleared out. As a result, this increases the risk of infections.” She says that children are 37 percent more likely to have ear disease if their caregiver smokes and 86 percent more likely to need ear surgery.


Another cause of ear infections is the way you feed your baby. “Feeding babies while they’re flat on their back can allow liquid to move up the Eustachian tube and into the ears,” adds Chinnadurai.

About the Author