Preventing and Treating Ear Infections

By Jennifer Bright

December 10, 2019 6 min read

An all-too-common reason for hauling one's baby to the pediatrician is an ear infection. Almost two-thirds of babies will get at least one ear infection before their first birthday.

There's good reason why babies are more likely to get ear infections than adults. The eustachian tubes, which connect the inner ear to the back of the throat, are small. Plus, babies' immune systems are still developing, so they have a harder time battling the viruses and bacteria that cause ear infections.

Here's what our mommy M.D.'s — doctors who are also mothers — do to prevent and treat their own babies' ear infections.

"My kids rarely got ear infections," says Hana R. Solomon, M.D., a mom of four and grandmother of eight, a pediatrician and the author of "Clearing the Air One Nose at a Time: Caring for Your Personal Filter" in Columbia, Missouri. "I kept their noses clean by dropping in 10 to 20 drops of a saltwater solution and then sucking it out with a nasal aspirator. By the time my two younger kids were born, I knew about nasal irrigation, which is washing the nose. I washed their noses quite frequently, and I think that's why they rarely got ear infections. For more information on washing a baby's nose, visit Nasopure.com/nasopure-for-kids/babies."

"I love ear tubes," says Amy Baxter, M.D., a mom of three, the CEO of PainCareLabs.com and a National Institutes of Health researcher based in Atlanta, Georgia. "The need for tubes tends to run in families because it has to do with the shape of the head and how well the Eustachian tubes drain. My sons had multiple ear infections early on, and I was very proactive about getting them ear tubes, which made a tremendous difference."

"My youngest two babies had repeated ear infections and ended up having ear tubes put in," says Susan Besser, M.D., a mom of six grown children and grandmother of seven, and a family physician with Mercy Medical Center/Mercy Personal Physicians in Baltimore, Maryland. "Back then, our pediatrician treated the ear infections with antibiotics. But the recommendations for treating ear infections have changed over the years. Now research suggests that even if an ear is very red, it might be caused by a viral infection, and so antibiotics won't help. More pediatricians recommend waiting to see if the ear infections resolve on their own, without antibiotics."

"My older son had a lot of ear infections his first year," says Carrie Brown, M.D., a mom of two sons and a general pediatrician who treats medically complex children and specializes in palliative care at Arkansas Children's Hospital in Little Rock. "I frequently got calls from my son's day care that his eardrum had ruptured, goop was all over his shirt, and the staff wanted to know what to do. 'Nothing,' I'd reply. 'The pressure on the eardrum is gone now, and he's probably happy as can be.' My son's ear infections progressed rapidly. I could have him at the doctor and his ears would look fine, but six hours later his eardrum would rupture. In some kids, the pressure behind the eardrum builds up faster than in others. Just because their ears look fine today doesn't mean they won't be infected tomorrow. (Ruptured eardrums normally heal just fine.)"

"After a few eardrum ruptures, we had tubes put in my son's ears," Dr. Brown says. "He's fine today. The tubes fell out when he was around a year and a half old, and he hasn't had an ear infection in a really long time. As babies get older, their head shape changes, and they spend more time sitting up, so they have fewer ear infections."

Dr. Rallie's Tips

"By the time my youngest two sons were born, I had graduated from medical school, and I understood the benefits of nasal saline rinses. Whenever my youngest boys got stuffy noses, I'd mix up a saline solution, dissolving 1/2 teaspoon of iodine-free salt in 1/2 cup of warm water. Using one of the bulb suction devices that the hospital gave me when my sons were born, I'd gently squirt 1/2 teaspoon or so of the saline solution into each nostril and then gently suction it out. Because the rinse helps remove bacteria and allergens from the nasal passages, it reduces the risk of ear infections. The salt water reduces inflammation and removes excess mucus, which makes it easier for babies to breathe comfortably and also reduces the risk of ear infections. My two youngest sons rarely had ear infections when they were babies, and I'm sure that the saline rinses were a big factor in preventing them." — Rallie McAllister, M.D., M.P.H., mom of three, co-author of "The Mommy MD Guide to Your Baby's First Year," nationally recognized health expert and family physician in Lexington, Kentucky

Jennifer Bright is a mom of four sons, co-founder and CEO of family- and veteran-owned custom publisher Momosa Publishing, co-founder of the Mommy M.D. Guides team of 150-plus mommy M.D.s and co-author of "The Mommy M.D. Guide to Losing Weight and Feeling Great." She lives in Hellertown, Pennsylvania. To find out more about Jennifer Bright and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.

Photo credit: joffi at Pixabay

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