What causes ear infections in children?

Irene Hendrickson, MD
Ear infections are the most frequently diagnosed childhood illness in the United States, after the common cold. There are two common types of ear infections.
  • Otitis externa (“swimmer’s ear”) usually occurs after swimming in fresh water lakes or chlorinated swimming pools. It affects the outer ear canal and is usually caused by a bacterial infection.
  • Otitis media is a middle-ear infection. It occurs behind the eardrum and is typically caused by viruses or bacteria. Your child might have a fever. Severe infections may cause a hole in the eardrum.
To reduce the risk of ear infections, children should wash their hands and faces frequently and avoid contact with people who have symptoms of a viral infection. Exercise and a balanced diet with fruits and vegetables will also provide vitamins and nutrients the body needs to protect itself.
This content originally appeared online at UCLA Health.
Dania J. Lindenberg, MD
Ear infections in children, while not usually dangerous, can be very painful and disruptive to their daily routine. For children under age 7, in particular, ear infections can be a common occurrence. At that age, the eustachian tube is shorter, softer, and more horizontal than it is as children get older. This structural difference means that the tubes can become blocked more easily, causing pain and infection.

If your child has an ear infection, symptoms may include: irritability, loss of appetite, ear pain, fever, drainage from the ear, difficulty sleeping and trouble hearing. Contact your child's pediatrician if you think your child has an ear infection. If ear infections are recurrent, your child may need to be evaluated by an ear, nose and throat specialist.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.