image001Ear infections are one of the most common illnesses children experience in the United States. Known medically as otitis media, the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders notes that three of four children will have at least one infection by the time they reach age three. There are a wide variety of symptoms that can be associated with this condition, so knowing the signs of ear infection in toddler is important to give your child the medical attention they need.

What Are the Signs of Ear Infection in Toddler?

The most obvious sign is pain. Children may tell you their ears hurt, and those who cannot talk yet may tug at their ear or seem excessively cranky. Not all children will have a fever when an ear infection occurs. Many children develop ear infections shortly after experiencing a sinus infection or cold.

Additional signs of ear infection in toddler include:

  • Trouble sleeping, as lying down will make the infection more painful.
  • Reduced appetite because it is uncomfortable to swallow or chew.
  • Vomiting or diarrhea if the infection is also affecting the gastrointestinal tract.
  • Unpleasant smell coming from the ear.
  • Trouble hearing quiet sounds as fluid blocks the ear canal.
  • Yellow or white fluid draining from the ear. This is a less common symptom which may indicate that your child has a hole in their eardrum (this will heal after the infection is managed).
  • Difficulty balancing, as the ear helps manage equilibrium.

Want to know more about signs of ear infection in toddlers? Check out the video below:

What Causes My Toddler’s Ear Infection?

1. Bacterial Infection

Ear infections can stem from a virus or bacteria which cause the ear to fill with fluid behind the eardrum. In most cases, fluid will enter and leave the ear through the Eustachian tube at the middle ear, draining down the back of the nose to the throat. This is a quick process, but a blockage in this tube, which is a common side effect of a cold, allergies or sinus infection, can cause this fluid to back up. Because germs flourish in moist, dark, warm places, a fluid-filled ear is the perfect breeding ground for an infection. As an infection takes hold, the area behind the eardrum will become inflamed which causes pain. As your child’s body works to fight off the infection, it can cause a fever as well.

2. Children’s Eustachian Tube Is Shorter

Babies are more prone to ear infections than older children because they have a shorter Eustachian tube which sits as a more horizontal angle. As children grow, their Eustachian tube takes on a more vertical shape and triples in size which makes drainage easier.

3. Gender and Hereditary Link

Boys are more likely to get ear infections than girls, and there is some indication that there is a hereditary link which increases this risk.

4. Bottle-feeding and Dairy Products

Bottle-fed babies are also more likely to get ear infections because they are not getting the immune support that breast milk provides. Dairy products also seem to increase the risk of infection in some children.

5. Sucking on a Pacifier

Some have found that sucking on a pacifier can pull moisture from the throat and nose which can increase the risk of ear infections. Children that regularly play indoors with other children are exposed to more germs which will lead to more infections over time.

How to Treat Ear Infections in My Toddler

When your child has developed an ear infection, there are some things you can do to ease their pain, though ultimately they will need medical treatment to rid their body of the infection.

1. Home Remedies

Home Remedies



Cold medication will not help manage an ear infection, but acetaminophen or ibuprofen can help to ease discomfort. Do not provide your child with aspirin for pain.

Be held upright

Children over 2 can sleep with a pillow and younger children can be held or kept upright in their car seat as this will make it easier for the ear to drain. Once they relax, allow them to sleep in their crib.

Take a dropper or tuck a cotton ball

If your child does not have discharge coming from their ear, take a dropper and place 2-3 drops of olive or sesame oil at room temperature into the ear to help release fluid. If your child has pus coming from their ear, tuck a cotton ball into the external ear to absorb it.


Swallowing can release pressure on the inner ear by encouraging drainage. Give your child plenty of fluids or give older children a piece of sugarless gum that will help to naturally promote swallowing.

2. Treatments of a Doctor

  • Antibiotics

If your child has an infection, they will need antibiotics to clear it, though some doctors now recommend that you try to allow the infection to clear on its own first. Over-prescribing medication can create drug-resistant bacteria that will be harder to treat over time. In 85 percent of cases fluid in the ears will clear on its own, but if your child’s condition gets worse, it is recommended that they are given an antibiotic. Give this medication according to the instructions to ensure that all of the bacteria are killed or the infection may come back.

  • Insert tympanostomy tubes

In most cases, your child will see improvement after 2-3 days of treatment, but some children are prone to regular infections. If your child has had an infection for over three months, your doctor may want to insert tympanostomy tubes to help the middle ear drain more effectively. This is done by making a hole in the eardrum to insert a small plastic tube. You should consider this option carefully because your child will need to be given general anesthesia to have these tubes inserted. In 80 percent of cases, this will increase air circulation to the middle ear which can help to reduce the accumulation of fluid. Tubes will usually fall out in 9-15 months, but if they do not, they will have to be removed by your doctor.