You wake up at the sound of your child crying. You go to check on them and find that they are warm to the touch and even though they should be sleeping they are acting a lot more fussy than normal. You pick them up to try to understand what may be happening with them, and you see them start to tug on their ears. This can be a really scary situation, and because it is the middle of the night, you try to think of what you can do.

Your child may have an ear infection, or Otitis Media (OM). This is an inflammation in the middle ear which is often caused by bacteria. The body reacts to this infection by building up fluid behind the eardrum. Nearly five out of six children will have at least one ear infection by the time they are three years old. This can be a painful illness and often children don’t know how to show what they are feeling. 

Symptoms of an ear infection

  • Tugging or pulling of their ear(s)
  • Fever (especially found in infants and young children)
  • Crying
  • Being Fussy
  • Trouble Sleeping
  • Fluid draining from the ear(s)
  • Having trouble with their balance
  • Not able to hear well

When you take your child in to see a doctor, they will ask about your child’s general health and whether they have had a recent head cold or sore throat. They will then use a lighted instrument called an otoscope to look inside the ear and examine the eardrum. If they see that the eardrum is red or bulging, this will indicate an infection. Another possible instrument they may use in the exam is a pneumatic otoscope which blows a puff of air into the ear canal to check for fluid behind the eardrum. A normal eardrum will move back and forth easily and allow your child to hear. If the eardrum is sluggish this will be another indication of an ear infection diagnosis. If those two tests are not conclusive, they may use a tympanometer which uses air pressure and tones to measure how flexible the eardrum is at different pressures.

Treatment for an ear infection

Once your doctor has diagnosed an ear infection, they will prescribe an antibiotic that will need to be taken for seven to ten days. The doctor may also suggest a pain reliever such as acetaminophen or ibuprofen to help with the fever and the pain. Ear drops may also be an option to help with the discomfort of the ear infection. 

Your child will likely feel better within a few days, but make sure to continue with the full course of the antibiotic even once they start feeling better to prevent another round of ear infections. Once the infection clears your child may still have fluid in the middle ear but will usually go away within three to six weeks. Be sure to follow up to ensure the infection is gone.


If you or a child has an ear infection, Dr. Lenkowski can help. Schedule an appointment with him online or call us at (540) 655-1888. We look forward to seeing you!