Health Library







Categories > Children’s Health > Ear infections

Too many ear infections?
A recurring problem
What to expect


Infection inspection
Infection inspection

Is that ear-tugging a warning sign of infection, or is it just your child playing with his ear or soothing himself? According to the experts at the American Academy of Pediatrics, it may be an ear infection if he is also doing any of the following:

  • crying or fussing more than usual
  • feeling pain when lying down
  • having a hard time hearing you or others
  • not sleeping well

If you see fluid coming out of your child’s ears or if he or she has a cold that lasts for longer than 10 days, call your pediatrician, as the cold may have spread to his ears. Your child’s doctor will use special tools to see whether or not there’s an infection.

When a child starts tugging on his or her ears because they hurt, an ear infection may be to blame. Ear infections occur when bacteria or viruses enter the middle ear and fluid or pus builds up, causing pain and, sometimes, hearing problems. They’re most common in kids ages 6 months to 2 years and can occur in one ear or both. Often, pediatricians will wait and see if the infection clears up on its own, or, if it’s caused by bacteria, they may prescribe antibiotics.

A recurring problem

More than 75 percent of kids have had at least one ear infection by age 3. But some kids get infection after infection. Others have hearing loss or speech delays because the fluid in the ear blocks sound. In these cases, ear tube surgery, in which the fluid is drained and a tube is placed to equalize pressure in the middle ear, may be the best solution. The surgery is meant to prevent fluid buildup down the road.

What to expect

The surgery is usually done in both ears, and it’s typically a quick procedure, taking just 10 to 15 minutes. It’s done at the hospital, and your child is placed under general anesthesia. You can’t be in the room during the procedure, but you can be there when your child wakes up. The surgeon makes a small hole in the eardrum and suctions out the fluid, then places a metal or plastic tube in the eardrum. In most cases, your child can go home in a few hours. As the eardrum heals, the tube will fall out, anywhere from six to 18 months later. If it doesn’t fall out after two or three years, your child may need surgery to remove it, so the tube doesn’t cause future problems.