Hearing management

Updated 09 September 2016

Ear infections often missed in infants

Irritability, fever and pulling at ears are possible signs of ear infections in babies, and should be treated promptly.

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Although most babies will have at least one ear infection before they reach the age of 1, these infections can be hard for parents to recognise.

Could lead to other problems

Identifying and treating ear infections in babies is important because they can lead to other problems, according to Dr. Andrew Hotaling, a paediatric otolaryngologist at Loyola University Health System in Chicago.

"Hearing disorders can lead to impediments in speech development and other growth milestones," Hotaling said in a Loyola news release.

Read: What is hearing loss?

"The ear infections are usually located in the middle ear."

Signs of an ear infection in babies include fever, irritability, poor sleep, and pulling or tugging at ears.

Antibiotics in extreme cases

"Antibiotics should only be prescribed if the ear infection cannot be cleared without them," Hotaling said.

"Incorrectly administering antibiotics can cause further harm."

Read: Treating hearing loss

Paediatric versions of anti-inflammatory acetaminophen or ibuprofen can provide relief, but check with your paediatrician about the right dosing information, Hotaling said.

A non-drug option is to apply heat to the outer ear, using a warm (not hot) wash cloth compress or brief use of a warm (not hot) heating pad or water bottle, he said.

Ear tubes may be necessary

"If your baby gets three ear infections in six months or four in one year, it may be time to consider ear tubes," Hotaling said.

The tubes, which have to be implanted during a surgical procedure, provide ventilation and drainage that helps prevent fluid build-up in the ears. Although anaesthesia is required, the whole procedure takes about 15 minutes, according to Hotaling.

Read: Causes of hearing loss

The tubes usually stay in place for six months to a year, and generally fall out on their own, he said.

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Image: Baby girl with earache from Shutterstock

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Francis Slabber is a Speech & Language Therapist and Audiologist who has owned and run The Hearing Clinic in Wynberg, Cape Town for the last 17 years. Francis and her team have extensive experience in fitting and supplying hearing aids as well as assistive living devices. Francis has served as the Western Cape Chairperson for the South African Association of Audiologists for three years and has given many talks on the topic of hearing loss and amplification. The Hearing Clinic has a special interest in adult and geriatric hearing impairment, hearing aid fittings and hearing rehabilitation.

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