A middle ear infection, called otitis media, is an infection that results from bacteria growth in fluid in an ear that has not adequately drained into the nasal passages. Middle ear infections are more common in children because of the physical characteristics of their Eustachian tubes.
When a child has an ear infection, she may shake her head, pull at or rub her ears, become restless and irritable, cry inconsolably or have trouble staying asleep. The pressure that is created from a swollen ear drum is painful for children and sometimes can cause the eardrum to erupt. If this happens, drainage usually follows.
According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, children who have bottles in their cribs while lying down or have propped bottles are susceptible to ear infections as bacteria can grow in pooled milk in the middle ear. Children who attend daycare are also more likely to get ear infections. Pacifier use may also contribute to ear infections.
If a child has an ear infection, antibiotics may be prescribed. Antibiotics may only help if the ear infection is caused by bacteria, not a virus. Many ear infections seem to resolve themselves without antibiotics, so a physician may not prescribe an antibiotic. Some bacteria have become highly resistant to some antibiotics, so a child may need courses of increasingly powerful antibiotics to kill the bacteria.
If a child has frequent ear infections that are not responsive to antibiotics, a physician may recommend ear tubes to help fluid drain. This outpatient surgery often prevents further ear infections, especially in infants and toddlers.