What causes ear infections in a baby?

Updated: May 19

Do you know that doctors in a pediatric emergency ward always carry an Otoscope to check for ear infections in crying babies?

What causes ear infections in a baby
Doctor examining a baby's ear with an otoscope

That is how common ear infections are in babies.

The main cause of ear infection in babies

Babies below six months love to sleep, keeping milk in their mouths. Milk has a protein that induces sleep and babies tend to sleep while they are consuming milk. In the mouth, we have many bacteria that can ferment the milk faster than in normal room conditions. This fermented milk and bacteria in the mouth can enter the middle ear through a eustachian or auditory tube. This bacteria along with milk can enter the ear through auditory tubes and this is what causes ear infections in a baby. If this milk enters the nose from the nasopharynx (back of the nose), it causes rhinitis, i.e., cold.

The main cause of ear infection in babies is sleeping with milk in mouth
Baby sleeping while drinking milk increases the risk of ear infection

Risk factors in infants below six months

The eustachian tube is a tube that allows airflow from the nasopharynx (back of the nose) to the middle ear. These eustachian tubes in babies below six months are placed horizontal, unlike adults whose Eustachian tubes are more vertical or inclined, decreasing the risk of any fluid flowing from mouth to ear is less.

A newborn's head is designed small to make it easy during birth. So, the skull has limited space to accommodate the brain and hence the eustachian tubes are placed horizontally to make space for the brain. As the baby's head size grows, eustachian tubes get space to align themselves vertically and decrease the risk of ear infections.

How to prevent ear infections in a baby?

The leading cause of ear infections in babies is feeding habits, which can be easily corrected.

· Always feed a baby below six months in a slant position.

· After feeding baby, make sure to put them on your shoulder and tap their back until they get a burp

How to prevent ear infections in babies?
Making a baby sleep on shoulders after feeding

How can you identify ear infections in an infant?

Generally, babies tend to cry when they are in pain. In most cases, a doctor will diagnose using an otoscope. In older babies, you can see them rubbing their ears as if they want to clean up something.

Ear infection treatment for infant

If you can identify it by your child's behavior, you can give them saline nose drops 4 to 5 drops in each nostril 4 to 6 times a day. Saline is sterile water with Sodium Chloride equal to a human cellular concentration, i.e., 0.9% Sodium Chloride nose drops. The secretions get washed out and diluted with the nose drops, bringing down the infection. Once these drops drain the nasopharynx, recovery will be faster. If the infection is high, the doctor can prescribe antibiotics.

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