Ear Infection in Toddlers – Causes, Symptoms and Treatment

6 min read

Written by Smita Srivastava

Smita Srivastava

Ear infection in toddlers

Ear infection in toddlers is very common. Babies, toddlers, and even adults are prone to ear infections. While they can be alarming when it is your toddler crying in pain, in most cases, the ear infection will clear on its own without any lasting effects. It is just a phase your toddler’s immune system has to survive and learn from.

Parents, despite knowing ear infections are common in children, tend to feel guilty for letting the infection get to their toddlers. Relax, it is not your fault. Toddlers are more prone to ear infections than adults. So, you cannot control everything around them. Why does your toddler get an ear infection despite all the precautions you take? Read on to learn more.

In This Article

What is Ear Infection in Toddlers?

What is ear infection in toddlers

Ear infection in toddlers is the inflammation around the middle ear which connects to the nose and the back of the throat. In most cases, it is due to bacteria that occurs when there is a lot of fluid build-up in this area – in the passage that connects the nose to the throat.

When your toddler has a cold or phlegm, the inner ear fluid usually drains through the throat. If there is inflammation in this area, due to bacteria or virus, the tract can swell enough to shut. When the fluid can’t drain, it starts building up, which becomes the perfect breeding ground for bacteria, resulting in an ear infection.

How Common is Ear Infection in Toddlers?

Ear infection in toddlers is very common. Studies report that five out of six children suffer from ear infection before they turn 3 years old. Even a simple cold can turn into an ear infection if the fluid builds up.

What Causes Ear Infections in Toddlers?

Toddlers are highly prone to ear infections. There is not much you can control. Some of the possible causes of an ear infection in your toddler are:

  • Bacteria like streptococcus, pneumonia, or Haemophilus influenzae
  • Cold causing viruses
  • Putting something inside the ear
  • Too much water goes into the ear and is left uncleaned

Symptoms of Ear Infection in Toddlers

Toddler pulling ears and crying

Not all ear infections will have fluid draining out of the ear. Some can be just discomfort or pain inside the ears. Here are some symptoms to watch out for-

  • They seem to be tugging and pulling at their ear very frequently and crying
  • They are unable to sleep like usual
  • Your toddler has an unusual fever that won’t go down
  • You notice fluid leaking from the ear
  • They are unable to hear clearly – could be both sides or just one side
  • They don’t respond to auditory cues like usual
  • Their balance is a little off – since the ears are responsible for our balance, an infection can disturb it

How Are Ear Infections in Toddlers Diagnosed?

Diagnosing an ear infection in a toddler can be tricky. Most of them won’t be ready to sit on the doctor’s chair and let their ears be explored.

So, doctors will first try to understand the symptoms. If your toddler has a cold or shows symptoms of an ear infection, the doctor will use an otoscope – an instrument to help them inspect the inside of your toddler’s ear.

How to Treat Ear Infection in Toddlers?

Doctor examining toddler's ear

When your toddler has an ear infection, the doctor will check how severe it is and treat it accordingly. Some of the treatment options are-

1. Wait and See

Most ear infections in toddlers clear away on their own and doctors don’t prefer to medicate unnecessarily. So, your doctor might ask you to just wait and see for a couple of days.

2. Pain Relievers

If your toddler is in severe pain that is affecting their regular routine, your doctor might prescribe some medicines to relieve the pain.

3. Distraction

Distracting your toddler’s pain may not be the best parenting hack but it will at least help your toddler forget the immense pain.

Home Remedies For Ear Infection in Toddlers

Most ear infections will clear out on their own without medications. However, you cannot just sit idle and watch your toddler suffer in pain. Here are some home remedies to help your toddler’s ear infection-

  • Apply a cold or a warm compress over the aching ear
  • Turn or rotate their neck slowly. Doing this fast might hurt them
  • Steaming can reduce the phlegm build-up or block in the nasal passage, which can give some temporary relief. If your toddler won’t cooperate with steaming, just let hot water run in the bathroom for a few minutes, with the door closed. Now carry your toddler inside, the room will be full of steam and this can suffice
  • Remember to never use a Q-tip to clean out the ear. It will only push the wax further in, increasing the pain.

How to Prevent Ear Infections in Toddlers?

Vaccination can prevent ear infection in toddlers

Just because toddlers are prone to ear infections, does not mean we should not do anything to prevent it. Here are some ideas to prevent an ear infection in your toddler-

1. Vaccinate

Bacteria can cause multiple infections, which can eventually reach the ear. It is essential to vaccinate your child as per age recommendations.

[Read : Toddler Diseases & Vaccinations]

2. Treat Illness

If your toddler has a severe cold, it can lead to fluid build-up causing severe pain. So, treat the cold or flu first, and prevent a fluid build-up.

3. Avoid Talcum Powder

If you have the habit of using talcum powder on your baby’s face and neck, stop it immediately. The powder can fly and deposit in closed moist areas. The ear is moist and wet most of the time. When the powder enters the ears, it will slowly build up into a block causing too much pain and hearing loss.

4. Stay Safe

Keep your toddler away from sick people. They are too young and their immunities are still developing. They can catch an infection very easily, which in turn can become an ear infection quickly.

5. Breastfeed

The sucking motion can help release the pressure and blockage in the eardrums, thus reducing pain and eventually, the infection.

When Should You Consider Consulting a Doctor?

Some ear infections may not clear on their own and may require something more than home remedies. If you notice the following in your toddler, consult your doctor at the earliest-

  • High fever that does not reduce despite medications
  • Pus-like fluid or bloody discharge from the ear
  • Excess pain and discomfort

Ear infections in toddlers are very common. It is not the parent’s fault if the toddler gets an infection. Unless it is a serious infection that requires treatment in the hospital, your toddler will not have any lasting impacts.

[Read : Frequent Colds in My Child – What Should I Do?]


1. How Long Do Ear Infections Last in Toddlers?

Most ear infections in toddlers will clear up in 3 to 5 days, without any treatment or medications.

2. What Foods Are Good For Ear Infections?

A well-balanced diet that includes green leafy vegetables, bananas, oranges, milk products, and fish are good for ear health.

3. Are Ear Infections Contagious in Toddlers?

No, ear infections are not contagious and cannot spread from one toddler to another.

4. Can Swimming Cause Ear Infections in Toddlers?

Yes, swimming can cause ear infections if the contaminated water is left in the ear and not cleaned after a swim. It can lead to the formation of bacteria.

5. Why Does My Toddler Get Ear Infections Repeatedly?

Your toddler’s immune system is still developing and learning to fight bacteria and viruses. The Eustachian tubes are smaller and horizontal, which makes it more difficult for fluid to drain out, thus leading to a build-up.

Read Also: Winter Care For Toddlers – Keep The Colds and The Flu Away!

Smita Srivastava, Bachelors (BA) in Mass Media and Mass Communication from Delhi University
Masters (MA) in Mass Media and Mass Communication from Kurukshetra University

With a background in Mass media and journalism, Smita comes with rich and vast experience in content creation, curation, and editing. As a mom of a baby girl, she is an excellent candidate for writing and editing parenting and pregnancy content. The content she writes and edits is influenced by her own journey through pregnancy and motherhood. When not writing- She can be found curled up with a book. Or, bingeing on Netflix.Read more.

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