For new mom Jenny, sleepless nights were the norm, for both her and her baby Austin. Sure, her first child Anna was a fussy eater and would sometimes lay awake for hours cooing to herself or tussling with her favorite stuffed animal. But it was different with Austin, who could never seem to find a comfortable position and would toss and turn all night long.
One evening, when Jenny went to check on Austin, she noticed a tiny puddle of shiny liquid near his head. Had be thrown up? Jenny was scared to look. But then it became apparent that the fluid was drainage from Austin’s ears! No wonder he couldn’t sleep! That night, Jenny went online to make an appointment for Austin with their pediatrician, and was lucky to find one for the next day. That’s when the pediatrician confirmed exactly what Jenny had suspected, that Austin indeed was suffering from chronic ear infections.
While Jenny was relieved that this mystery was solved and Austin could finally get some relief, she was still frustrated with herself for missing the signs. If you think your child could have an ear infection, here are the signs that parents might not notice at first:
- Fluid in the ear. A child’s eustachian tubes are much smaller than they are in adults. Ear infections are caused when fluid builds up behind the eardrum. With nowhere to go, the fluid blocks or swells up the eustachian tubes with mucus, and the pain can be excruciating for the child, and may result in a ruptured eardrum. Other times, the fluid escapes, which is why Jenny saw fluid next to Austin’s head.
- Tugging at the ears. If there is one universal truth about children, it is that they will always give you clues as to what is wrong, even if they aren’t speaking yet! With ear infections, look for tugging at the ears; some children might try to insert objects like crayons or straws into their eardrums to try to relieve the pressure or the “whooshing” sounds some kids “hear” when they have an ear infection.
- Refusal to eat. Sucking on bottles, nursing, and swallowing can be painful for children with ear infections, and they might opt out on eating altogether to alleviate or avoid pain.
- It’s called an ear infection¸ which means your child’s body will likely develop a fever, trying to fight that infection.
- Vomiting and/or diarrhea. Remember, the virus that causes the ear infection can affect the gastrointestinal tract as well. Don’t be surprised if drainage finds its way to your child’s tummy, where it could wreak a bit of havoc in the form of vomiting and/or diarrhea.
- Crying, fussiness. Even the happiest baby or child will demonstrate fussiness as the infection becomes more intense. Take note!
If you didn’t think ear infections were serious to begin with, a study by the National Institutes of Health, found that five out of six children will have at least one ear infection by their third birthday. In fact, NIH reports that ear infections are the most common reason parents bring their child to a doctor. If your child demonstrates any of the above symptoms, the medical professionals at Children’s Health Care of Massachusetts (CHC Mass) can help you determine if your child has an ear infection or any other condition that is impacting their well-being. Contact your preferred CHC location in Newburyport or Haverhill to schedule a comprehensive health consultation, so both you and your baby can sleep soundly at night.