Expert Advice

Ear infections in babies: What you need to know

How can I tell if my child has an ear infection?

Ear infections are one of the most common health problems parents will have to deal with, and they can wreak havoc on your child's health and happiness. However treatment is often quick and effective.

The ear is made up of three main parts: the outer ear, the middle ear and the inner ear. The outer ear is connected by a short passage, called the canal, to the eardrum and middle ear, which in turn leads to the inner ear. The middle ear is filled with air and the inner ear is filled with fluid. A tube called the Eustachian tube leads from the middle ear to the back of the throat.

Any section of the ear can become infected, but middle ear infection (otitis media), where the normally air-filled space becomes filled with pus, is the most common.

Ear infections are one of the most common health problems in children under the age of three

What causes ear infections?

Ear infections are usually caused by viruses, but they can also be bacterial. Middle ear infections are common in young children because they have narrow, short Eustachian tubes which lie horizontally rather than sloping downwards as steeply as in adults.

This not only makes it easy for viruses and bacteria to travel from the nose and throat to the middle ear, but mucus tends to build up rather than drain away. Children with allergies are prone to ear infections.

How can I tell if my child has an ear infection?

Middle ear infections are the most common type of ear infections in babies and children

How can ear infections be treated?

Most children get over an earache within 24 hours with or without treatment

Emergency checklist

Always get ear infections checked by your doctor. Left untreated, middle ear infections can damage the cavity or bones within it and cause permanent hearing loss.