Outer Ear Infection in Children: Easing Little Ears

Outer Ear Infection

These three words will at one time or another tug at every mother’s heart . . . Outer ear infection. Especially painful for little ears, infants and toddlers can have a very difficult time coping with the pain that outer ear infection brings. If your child has ever had an ear infection in the past or if your child is currently suffering from an ear ache you know just how difficult it can be on both child and parent.

The first thing you should know about your child’s outer ear infection is that they usually aren’t serious. They can however become worse if left untreated. The longer your child has an outer ear infection the greater chance they have of developing a middle or inner ear infection which can be much more painful for your child.

What exactly is an outer ear infection?

An outer infection occurs when the outer part of the ear (both the part you can see and the entrance of the ear canal) becomes infected. An outer ear infection is often caused by bacteria. You may have heard your doctor refer to your child’s infection as Swimmer’s Ear however, the name can be deceiving as an outer ear infection in children can have many different causes.

Exposure to moisture in the ear can cause bacteria to grow and accumulate but cotton swabs and/or placing the fingers inside the ears can also be a common cause of an outer ear infection. Foreign objects in the ear can break the skin surrounding the ear allowing bacteria to enter the skin and set up infection.

What are the signs of an outer ear infection?

  • Itching that may be mild to severe according to the severity and progression of the infection
  • Redness inside or outside the entrance of the ear
  • Discomfort within the ear or outer ear that may increase when pressing on the bump in front of your child’s ear or by pulling the ear lobe outward.
  • Itching
  • Pain
  • Discharge and fluid leaking from the ear
  • Muffled hearing and a feeling of ears being “full”

Intense itching, pain and drainage can be a sign of a worsening condition. If you believe your child has an outer ear infection consult your doctor to see what the best avenue of treatment is. Occasionally, an infection will spread and worsen creating a middle or inner ear infection that requires antibiotics. Because the infection can spread to deeper tissues if left untreated, it is always a good idea to seek the advice of a doctor if you think your child has an outer ear infection.

What are the treatments for an outer ear infection in children?

The most common treatment for an uncomplicated case of outer ear infection in children is antibiotic ear drops. Depending on the severity of your child’s infection the drops may also contain a type of steroid. The steroid additive is mild and not harmful. If your doctor believes the infection is severe or that your child’s outer ear infection has become an inner one he or she may prescribe an oral antibiotic as well.

While your child is healing you will need to keep their little ears free of water. This can be very tricky for the 3 and under set. However there are a few tricks you can use that can be helpful for bathing. Wet a wash cloth and apply the shampoo directly to the cloth. Lay it gently over your little ones hair and brush backwards a few times. Rinse the soap out of the wash cloth. Dampen once more and repeat until your child’s hair is soap free. This process is a bit more daunting than every day hair washing but it can be well worth it if you avoid the added pain of water in a little ear with a boo boo.

An outer ear infection is never comfortable for child or parent. However, with treatment, a little rest and a lot of love they will be feeling better in no time. Try to find the silver lining of the difficult days and enjoy the time they spend in your lap seeking comfort. They will be back to painting on the walls and playing “catch me if you can” before you know it.

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