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Causes and Signs of Ear Infections in Children

What Causes a Child's Ear Infection?

The cause of ear infections in children is most often associated with bacteria or viruses that get inside the ear. These bacteria or viruses can initially cause sore throats, colds, or other respiratory or breathing problems and then spread to the middle ear.
Bacteria reach the middle ear through the lining or the passageway of the eustachian tube and can then produce infection. Infection causes swelling of the lining of the middle ear, blocking of the eustachian tube, and migration of white cells from the bloodstream to help fight the infection. In this process the white cells accumulate, often killing bacteria and dying themselves, leading to the formation of pus (a thick yellowish-white fluid) in the middle ear.
As the fluid increases, the child may have trouble hearing because the eardrum and middle ear bones are unable to move as freely as they should. As the infection worsens, many children also experience severe ear pain. Too much fluid in the ear can put pressure on the eardrum and eventually tear it.

What Are the Symptoms?

An ear infection is often difficult to detect because most children affected by ear infection symptoms do not yet have sufficient speech and language skills to tell someone what is bothering them.
Common symptoms of ear infections in children include:
  • Unusual irritability
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Tugging or pulling at one or both ears
  • Fever
  • Fluid draining from the ear
  • Loss of balance
  • Unresponsiveness to quiet sounds or other signs of hearing difficulty, such as sitting too close to the television or being inattentive.
A child with an ear infection may exhibit any of these symptoms of an ear infection. However, other health problems can also cause these symptoms. Anyone with a possible ear infection should see a doctor. Only a doctor can diagnose and treat the problem.
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