How to comfort your kids

To many parents of young children, coping with ear infections is almost as routine as changing wet diapers. Seven of 10 children will have at least one middle ear infection (otitis media) by age 3. One-third of these youngsters will have repeated bouts of ear infections.

A 1996 Mayo Clinic study pointed out that ear infections are increasing. According to the report, the number of office visits for ear infections in American children younger than age 2 tripled between 1975 and 1990. For children ages 2 to 5, the rate doubled.

Most ear infections don't lead to permanent hearing loss. Some infections that aren't treated, however, can spread to other parts of the ear, including the inner ear. Infections of the middle ear can damage the eardrum, ear bones and inner ear structure, causing permanent hearing loss. An ear infection often begins with a respiratory infection such as a cold. Colds cause swelling and inflammation in the sinuses and eustachian tubes. Children's eustachian tubes are shorter and narrower than adults. This size makes it more likely that inflammation will block the tube completely, trapping fluid in the middle ear. This trapped fluid causes discomfort and creates an ideal environment for bacteria to grow. The result is a middle ear infection.


2Consider an over-the-counter pain reliever such as ibuprofen or acetaminophen. (If your child is younger than 2, consult your health care provider.)
2Eardrops with a local anesthetic may help reduce pain. They won't prevent or stop an infection. They should not be used if there is drainage from the ear.
2To administer eardrops, warm the bottle slightly in water and place the child on a flat surface (not in your arms or on your lap), ear up, to insert the eardrops; then insert a small cotton wick to retain the eardrops.
2Place a warm (not hot), moist cloth or heating pad (on lowest setting) over the ear.

Medical help

Contact your doctor if pain lasts more than a day or is associated with fever. Ear infections usually are treated with antibiotics. Even if your child feels better after a few days, continue giving the medicine for the full length of time recommended (usually 10 days).