Tugging at the ear. Fever. Fluid drainage. Most ear infections that occur in children take place before they have learned how to talk.

Ear infections are typically caused by bacteria that often starts after a sore throat, cold or upper respiratory infection. The infection causes fluid to build behind the eardrum, which separates the outer ear from the middle ear. The middle ear is where ear infections take place.

The Eustachian tube is a small passageway, within the ear, that connects the middle ear to the upper throat. It provides fresh air to the middle ear, drains fluid and keeps air pressure steady. When it comes to fighting off infection, adenoids trap bacteria that enters the mouth by keeping it from entering the Eustachian tube.

“Children have smaller Eustachian tubes than adults,” said JRMC Ear, Nose & Throat Provider Dr. W. Thomas Coombe. “They are also more level, which makes difficult conditions for fluid to drain out from the ear. If the tubes become blocked with mucus, fluid may not drain.”

Following are signs to help identify if a child has an ear infection, especially if they aren’t able to talk.

  1. Sore throat. Sore throats can go hand-in-hand with ear infections due to the adenoids not being able to successfully trap bacteria.
  1. Difficulty sleeping. If a child isn’t able to sleep and has other symptoms, he or she may have an ear infection. This is primarily due to the pressure built up within the middle ear from bacteria.
  1. Tugging or pulling. When ears ache and hurt, it is common for children and adults to pull on them. Earaches can also be a sign of a perforated eardrum, which develops if the fluid trapped in the middle ear places too much pressure on the eardrum and causes it to burst.
  1. Fever. The most common type of ear infection is known as acute otitis media. This is where the middle ear becomes infected, swollen and fluid is trapped behind the eardrum causing ear pain and sometimes fever.

Like with any illness, ear infections have common symptoms; however, they also have symptoms that most parents might not associate with an ear infection. Some of these signs can also include

  1. having a poor appetite
  2. vomiting
  3. diarrhea

“If a child has persistent middle ear infections or a loss of hearing due to the fluid, ear tubes may be recommended,” Dr. Coombe said.

Persistent middle ear infections or hearing loss, due to fluid, can lead to speech and balance problems, hearing loss, poor school performance or changes in the eardrum structure as individuals develop through adulthood.

According to the American Academy of Otolaryngology – Head and Neck Surgery, more than half a million ear tube surgeries take place on children each year, with the average age being one to three years old. In his 31 years of experience, Dr. Coombe has performed thousands of surgeries for tubes and tonsils.

Is someone you love showing signs of an ear infection? Schedule direct: (701) 952-4878.

Request an Appointment

Select the appropriate department for your appointment request.