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  • Writer's pictureDr. Koralla Raja Meghanadh

What causes ear infections in a baby?

Updated: Oct 3, 2023

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

That is how common ear infections are in babies.

The reasons are simple, and the solutions are even more simple.

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

The leading cause of ear infections in babies

Feeding habits are responsible for ear infections

Babies below six months love to sleep with milk in their mouths. Milk has a protein that induces sleep, and babies tend to sleep while consuming milk. In the mouth, many bacteria can ferment the milk faster than in normal room conditions.

The fermented milk and bacteria in the mouth can enter the middle ear through a eustachian or auditory tube while in sleep. This bacteria, along with milk, can enter the ear through auditory tubes, which causes ear infections in a baby.

If the fermented milk enters the nose from the nasopharynx (back of the nose), it causes rhinitis, i.e., the common 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

Why is the risk of middle ear infection high in infants?

The Eustachian tube allows airflow from the nasopharynx (back of the nose) to the middle ear. These auditory tubes in babies below six months are placed horizontally, unlike adults whose tubes are more vertical or inclined.

The horizontally placed auditory tubes in a baby make it easy for the fermented milk to move from the mouth to the middle ear in turn increasing the chance of middle ear infection.

A newborn's head is designed small to make it easy during birth. So, the skull has limited space to accommodate the brain. Hence, the eustachian tubes are placed horizontally to make space for the brain. As the baby's head grows, tubes get the area to align themselves vertically, decreasing 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 the 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 and confirm 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 we can identify by child's behavior, we 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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At what age do babies get ear infections?

Ear infections are more common in babies under six months of age. Because their auditory tubes are positioned horizontally, whereas, in adults, The tubes are more vertically inclined. So these horizontal tubes make it easier for milk to travel from the mouth to the middle ear, increasing the likelihood of a middle ear infection.

Please read the above article for more details.

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