What Causes Ear Infections In Babies ? 4 Eye-opening Aspects

what causes ear infections in babies
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Parents and other carriers can avoid ear infections by knowing what causes ear infections in babies, when they do occur, and how to treat them. Throughout the course of their first year of life, more than half of all newborns will have had at least one episode of otitis media, often known as an ear infection. Infants who have an ear infection sometimes experience severe pain, fever, irritability, and trouble falling asleep. Let’s have a detailed look into what exactly an ear infection is and what causes ear infections in babies.

what causes ear infections in babies
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1. Otitis Media ( Ear Infection)

Otitis media, another name for an ear infection, is an inflammation of the middle ear (space behind the eardrum) brought on by a bacterial or viral infection. While it is possible for adults to be affected as well, the majority of people who suffer from this condition are children.

What causes ear infections in babies? The area of the ear behind the eardrum known as the middle ear is home to the tiny bones that vibrate to carry sound to the inner ear. A middle ear infection may result in symptoms such as discomfort, fever, mild hearing loss, and other communication disorders. Acute infections are those that appear abruptly and last for a brief period, while chronic infections last for a longer period.

1.1 Types of Ear infections in Babies

Ear infections in babies are of several types and it is necessary to understand the type of infection to know what causes ear infections in babies. 

1.1.1 Otitis Media with Effusion (OME):

When fluid accumulates in the middle ear without showing any signs of infection, it is called otitis media with effusion (OME), commonly referred to as “glue ear.” The liquid can alter a baby’s hearing and thicken and become glue-like leading to a middle ear infection.

Infants and young children frequently experience OME, which can be brought on by a cold, allergies, or issues with the Eustachian tube. The Eustachian tube is a passageway that connects the back of the throat to the middle ear and also plays a role in maintaining a normal pressure in the ear. In the event that the Eustachian tube is not functioning as it should, fluid may accumulate in the middle ear.

1.1.2 Acute otitis media (AOM):

What causes ear infections in babies? When bacteria or viruses invade the middle ear and produce swelling and fluid remains in the middle ear, the condition is known as acute otitis media (AOM). In addition to causing ear pain, fever, irritability, and trouble sleeping, AOM is sometimes accompanied by a cold or upper respiratory infection. Infants with AOM might pull or tug at their ears, scream more often than usual, and have trouble feeding or drinking. These are the symptoms one should look  for to know what causes ear infections in babies 

An ear exam can be performed to identify AOM, and if bacteria are to blame for the infection, an antibiotic prescription may be made. The use of painkillers may also be advised for pain relief.

1.1.3 Chronic Otitis Media with Effusion (COME):

A long-term or recurrent fluid collection in the middle ear that lasts more than three months is known as chronic otitis media with effusion (COME). Unlike acute otitis media, COME is typically accompanied by a problem with the Eustachian tube or an allergy rather than an infection. If the fluid accumulation is not treated, it might impair a baby’s hearing and cause speech and language problems.

What causes ear infections in babies? Although a baby with COME may not show any symptoms, a doctor may advise treatment choices such as medication, nasal steroids, or ear tube surgery if the fluid remains for more than three months. Treatment aims to reduce fluid accumulation and enhance hearing.

what causes ear infections in babies
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2. What Causes Ear Infections in Babies

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, up to 75% of children suffer from at least one ear infection before they turn three years old, making ear infections the most frequent cause of pediatric office visits in the country. The key reasons what causes ear infections in babies are :

2.1 Immature Eustachian Tubes

The middle ear and the back of the throat are connected by a little tube called the Eustachian tube. The primary function of this structure is to maintain a consistent air pressure inside the tympanic membrane and the surrounding region. The Eustachian tubes momentarily open when we swallow or yawn, allowing air to enter or exit the middle ear.

Infants have a shorter, narrower, and more horizontally oriented Eustachian tube than adults, which makes it more challenging for them to equalize the pressure in their middle ear. What causes ear infections in babies? This can result in an accumulation of fluid in the middle ear, which might result in middle ear infections. Moreover, immature ear tubes are more prone to becoming obstructed than mature ones.

When the Eustachian tube is clogged, the usual passage of fluid and air into and out of the middle ear may not be possible. Because of this, there is a greater chance that bacteria or viruses will be able to multiply and develop an ear infection. Ear infections are a common problem among infants, and this is one of the reasons why.

2.2 Exposure To Germs

Most ear infections are caused by Viruses rather than bacteria. RSV (respiratory syncytial virus), influenza virus, and common cold virus are a few typical viruses that can result in an ear infection in infants. Hence, Germs can also be a reason what causes ear infections in babies. 

Streptococcus pneumoniae, Haemophiles influenzae, and Moraxella catarrhalis are a few infection-causing bacteria that can infect a baby’s ear. These bacteria can cause infection by infecting the middle ear, nose, and throat causing a sore throat and fever. It is typically more severe and may need antibiotic treatment when a baby gets an ear infection brought on by bacteria. The need for antibiotics is rarely necessary with viral ear infections, which frequently go away on their own.

what causes ear infections in babies
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2.3 Allergies

 Allergies in babies can result in ear infections as well as other symptoms including sneezing, runny nose, coughing, and itchy, watery eyes. It is essential to see a medical professional in order to identify and treat your infant’s allergic reactions. This may involve allergy testing, avoiding triggers, and using drugs such as antihistamines or nasal corticosteroids.

Pollen, dust mites, cat dander, and particular foods are examples of common allergens that can cause ear infections in infants. Ear infections can occasionally result from an allergic reaction to formula or breast milk.

2.4 Pacifier Use

Pacifiers raise the risk of infection by introducing bacteria from the baby’s mouth into the ear canal. Furthermore, the continuous sucking motion might result in painful pressure in the middle ear, which can draw fluid and bacteria in and cause an infection.

Long-term pacifier use can also alter a baby’s mouth shape and dental alignment, which can have an impact on how the Eustachian tubes develop. An ear infection may therefore become more likely as a result of this.

2.5 Secondhand Smoke

Babies’ chances of developing ear infections can arise when they are exposed to second-hand smoke. The lining of the ear and the Eustachian tube can become inflamed and irritated from secondhand smoke’s toxic compounds, which makes it simpler for bacteria to enter and cause illness. 

Thus, it’s crucial to refrain from smoking around infants and to make sure they are not near second-hand smoke in their homes, vehicle, or anywhere else. This can lessen their chance of getting ear infections and other health issues brought on by exposure to secondhand smoke.

2.6 Bottle Feeding

what causes ear infections in babies
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Ear infections are not brought solely by bottle feeding alone. Yet, ear infections can arise as a result of how a baby is fed. Milk or formula can enter the middle ear through the Eustachian tube when a baby is fed with a bottle. This may occur if the infant is fed while lying down or if the bottle is held up in the infant’s mouth, which may allow the liquid to enter the Eustachian tube more readily. An ear infection can occur as a result of fluid buildup in the middle ear becoming infected with bacteria or viruses.

2.7 Teething

Babies who start teething frequently experience pain and discomfort in their gums, which can lead them to chew on things like their fingers and toys. Increased salivation brought on by this chewing may result in more frequent swallowing. The Eustachian tubes in babies’ middle ears might become open temporarily when swallowing, allowing bacteria or viruses from the mouth to reach the middle ear. 

2.8 Weak Immune System

Infants and young children are more prone to developing ear infections due to their underdeveloped immune systems and anatomy. Babies and young children’s immune systems are still maturing; therefore, they might not be as capable of warding off diseases as adults. They become more prone to infections as a result, particularly ear infections.

2.9 Family History

family history can play a role in the likelihood of a baby developing ear infections. If a baby’s parents or siblings have a history of frequent ear infections, the baby may be more likely to develop them as well. This is because some people may have anatomical differences in their ears that make them prone to more ear infections, and these differences can be passed down through families.

3. Symptoms of Ear Infection in Babies

what causes ear infections in babies
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Depending on the type of infection and the severity of the ailment, the signs of an ear infection in babies can change. Here are some ways to know if your child has an ear infection:

3.1 Pulling 0r Tugging At Their Ears:

Babies who have ear infections frequently pull or tug at their ears. Babies may naturally try to relieve ear pain by pulling or tugging at their ears when they have ear infections since they can cause pain and discomfort in the ears.

3.2 Crying or Fussiness:

Study conducted on what causes ear infections in babies shows that another typical sign of infant ear infections is crying or fussiness. Babies who have ear infections may experience pain and discomfort, which can make them irritable and drive them to cry a lot. Because the change in posture can exacerbate the pain and increase pressure in the ears, the crying, or fussiness.

3.3 Sleeping Difficulties:

Babies who have ear infections may have trouble falling asleep or staying asleep because of the pain and discomfort that it causes. When the infant lies down, the discomfort could be particularly obvious since the positional change might exacerbate the pain by increasing the pressure inside the baby’s ears.

As a result of their discomfort, babies with ear infections may also wake up more frequently during the night, making it challenging for both the baby and the parents to get enough sleep.

3.4 Fever:

 The typical fever ranges from 100.4°F (38°C) to 102°F (39°C), and it is low-grade. Other signs and symptoms, such as earache, agitation, and trouble sleeping, may also be present in addition to the fever leading to what causes ear infections in babies.

3.5 Lack of Appetite:

One typical sign of infant ear infections is an inability to eat. Babies who have ear infections may find it difficult to eat or drink because of the pain and discomfort they experience in their ears, throat, and jaw. Babies may refuse to eat or drink or may only take little amounts because of the pain, which may be particularly obvious during swallowing.

3.6 Fluid Drainage:

Babies who have an ear infection may have fluid draining as a symptom of otitis media with effusion (OME) or acute otitis media (AOM). OME is a condition that occurs when fluid accumulates behind the eardrum as a result of a blockage in the Eustachian tubes, which are the tubes that link the middle ear to the back of the throat. AOM, on the other hand, happens when the middle ear becomes infected, leading to swelling and fluid accumulation.

In either scenario, the pressure from the fluid buildup may result in an eardrum rupture and ear drainage. The drainage may be yellow or clear and smell bad.

what causes ear infections in babies
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4. Prevention and Treatment

Baby ear infections must be treated since they can be painful and uncomfortable for the infant and, if neglected, can result in more severe consequences. Knowing what causes ear infections in babies isn’t sufficient. Therefore, its also important to know how to prevent them  These are some ways that can be used to prevent an ear infection:

4.1 Breastfeeding

Babies’ ear infections can often be avoided by breastfeeding, according to several experts. Antibodies and other immune-stimulating elements found in breast milk can help protect infants from infections, particularly those that result in ear infections.

In addition, breastfeeding supports a baby’s healthy development of the Eustachian tube, which can help prevent fluid buildup in the middle ear. This is significant because ear infections can result from fluid accumulation.

4.2 Avoid Second-hand Smoke

While second-hand smoke exposure increases the incidence of ear infections and makes them more severe, One of the most important steps in preventing infant ear infections is to stay avoid secondhand smoke. To solve what causes ear infections in babies, It’s crucial to stop smoking or get help if you or your partner do. The danger of ear infections can be decreased and your baby’s health can be safeguarded by quitting smoking.

4.3 Keeping Babies Away From People Who Are Sick

A crucial step in preventing ear infections and other ailments is to keep babies away from sick people. Since infants’ immune systems are still developing and they are more susceptible to illnesses, additional care must be taken to keep them safe.

Babies are more likely to come into touch with bacteria that can cause illnesses, particularly ear infections when they are near sick individuals. Babies’ ear infections can result from respiratory diseases like the flu and the common cold and other upper respiratory infection.

what causes ear infections in babies
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4.4 Limiting Bottle Feeding

Bottle-fed babies are reported to have more ear infections when compared to breastfed babies. This is because new-born who are bottle-fed are more likely to experience negative pressure in the middle ear, which can cause fluid to build up and raise the risk of ear infections. On the other hand, breastfeeding is frequently advised over bottle feeding as a technique to help reduce ear infections in infants. Avoid feeding your infant a pacifier at night or during naps because doing so can increase the likelihood that fluid will build up in the middle ear which is also a reason what causes ear infections in babies. 

4.5 Vaccination and Antibiotics

One of the best ways to fight infections is through vaccinations. Pneumococcal illness and Haemophilus influenzae type b (Hib) infection are two examples of infections that can result in an ear infection and which are both preventable by vaccination. For infants and young children, the pneumococcal conjugate vaccination (PCV13) and the Hib vaccine are frequently advised to help prevent these kinds of infections. Infections caused by viruses that can result in ear infections can also be avoided with the flu vaccine.

Suggested Reading: When Do Babies Start Eating Table Food: Best 101 Baby Food Guide For Mothers 

5. Conclusion

To treat ear infections such as acute otitis media (AOM), Antibiotics are frequently employed. If your child has a moderate to severe ear infection or if the condition is not getting better on its own, your doctor may recommend an antibiotic.

Antibiotics function by eradicating the bacterium that is inflicting the infection. Even if your baby’s symptoms get better before the recommended course of antibiotics is up, it’s still crucial to give them the complete dose.

 Your doctor can perform a physical exam, get the ear infection diagnosed, prescribe antibiotics, and recommend appropriate treatment based on the type and severity of the infection.


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Anagha A
Anagha is a goal-driven life sciences graduate who holds a triple degree in Biotechnology, Microbiology, and Chemistry. She is an experienced content writer who writes about health & lifestyle. As a Life Sciences graduate and a research scholar, she has gained immense knowledge by working on research projects related to the field of health and wellness.
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