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Red Flags That Indicate Your Toddler Has an Ear Infection

Doctor Checking Baby's Ear
Childhood ear infections are more than just common. According to the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders (NIDCD), ear infections affect five in six children ages three and under. When a middle ear infection strikes, your toddler may not have the words to express what they're feeling. Take a look at red flags that often signal this uncomfortable issue.

Change in Temperament

Your normally tolerant toddler is fussy. While this could indicate any number of issues (including other illnesses or infections, sleepiness, or hunger), it may also point to an ear infection. Illness often equals irritability in young children. This outwardly shows as excessive fussiness, mood changes, irritation, or even aggression.
On its own a temperament change isn't always cause for alarm. But in combination with other symptoms, it can point to a health problem-such as a middle ear infection. If your child is fussy, acting out for no apparent reason, or has a sudden behavior change (especially if it's out of character for your child), contact the pediatrician.

Ear Pulling

Is your child pulling or tugging at their ear? A gentle touch or an occasionally pull isn't necessarily a red flag. Toddlers are curious creatures who enjoy exploring. This exploration includes making discoveries about their own bodies. If your child suddenly discovers that their ear has interesting folds, you may notice them touching their lobes.
Again, without other symptoms, ear pulling or tugging isn't always a sign of an infection. But if your child is constantly touching their ear as they cry, act fussy, have a fever, or have drainage (from the ear), it's likely that an infection is at fault. Only a medical professional can diagnose your toddler's ear infection.

A Fever

Even though your young toddler can't tell you that they feel sick, their body can. It's likely that your child experiences some temperature changes during the day. But a fever above 100.4 degrees Fahrenheit (taken rectally) typically indicates illness.
Fevers are uncomfortable and sometimes serious, depending on how high your child's temperature is. But fevers also serve a purpose. The rise in temperature is an immune response that helps the body fight infection.
While some other ear infection red flags can have other non-health-related causes, a measurable fever is a signal that your child's immune system is working overtime. Whether the cause is an ear infection or not is a question that the pediatrician can answer for you.
A fever can quickly go from low-grade to seriously high. Always contact the pediatrician if your child has a fever. Never attempt to diagnose the cause or treat your child without medical advice.

Fluid Drainage

In some cases, fluid drainage may indicate a perforated eardrum or excessive wax buildup. But yellowish, brown, or even white/clear drainage is also a sign of an infection. Like the other ear infection red flags, it's likely that you'll see this symptom paired with other ones.
Given that fluid or drainage can come from a perforated or ruptured eardrum, it's important that your toddler see a medical professional immediately. The doctor will examine the inside of your child's ear, evaluate the type of drainage, conduct a physical exam, and look for other telltale signs of an infection.

Difficulty Hearing

Sometimes your toddler won't listen to you. But other times, your toddler can't listen to you. If your toddler ignores your requests, doesn't look up when you speak, or doesn't notice environmental noises (such as a car horn honking or music playing inside of your home), don't assume that they're acting defiant.
Fluid inside the ear can slow down sound signals. This results in difficulty hearing or conductive hearing loss. Prompt treatment can reduce the likelihood of lasting damage to the middle ear or eardrum.
Do these symptoms sound familiar? Contact Pediatric Consultants for more information.