Managing ear infections in early childhood

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  Published on Tuesday, 02 May 2017

Managing ear infections in early childhood

Library Home  >  Health, Wellbeing & Nutrition
  Published on Tuesday, 02 May 2017

Winter is fast approaching and with the cooler weather comes a higher incidence of colds. In some children these colds can lead to painful ear infections. As early childhood education and care providers it's helpful to be able to identify and understand the symptoms of ear infections and what you can do to alleviate a child's pain and discomfort.

The main symptoms of an ear infection in children:

  • Cold symptoms – ear infections are almost always preceded by a cold. Often a clear runny nose will turn yellow or green before an ear infection sets in.
  • General fussiness during the day and/or night
  • Complaining of ear pain or hearing loss
  • Night-waking more frequently
  • Unwillingness to lie flat
  • High temperature
  • Redness and sensitivity around the ear
  • Sudden increase in fussiness during a cold
  • Ear drainage – if you see blood or pus draining out of the ear, then it is probably an infection with a ruptured eardrum. DON'T WORRY! These almost always heal just fine, and once the eardrum ruptures the pain subsides
  • Less responsive to noises that would usually attract attention
  • Babies and very small children may also pull or rub their ear

Children may display two or more of these symptoms.

Ear infections are not contagious however the colds that cause them are. Therefore anything that can reduce the spread of germs is likely to reduce the incidence of ear infections.

Most ear infections occur in children under the age of three and child care professionals can play an active role in preventing them through practicing good basic hygiene and by teaching kids to do the same:

  • Have children use disposable tissues when they blow their noses or to cover their mouths when they cough.
  • Teach children that tissues should be used only once and then thrown away properly.
  • Do not allow children to share toys that they put in their mouths.
  • Wash dirty toys in hot, soapy water before allowing other children to play with them.
  • Teach children to always wash their hands after sneezing or coughing into them.
  • Do not allow sick children to share food or drinks.
  • Regularly wash and disinfect all surface areas and common play areas.
  • Do not share bathroom cups and other utensils that go in the mouth.

Follow your service's exclusion policies and procedures when deciding whether to send a child with a suspected ear infection home. If a child has a green runny nose and is unhappy and in pain then it's probably best to call the parents. If on the other hand the child is over the worst of the cold and seems to be in good spirits despite the infection then call the parents and advise them but consider keeping the child there until the end of the day.

Remember not to insert anything into the ear.

Ear infections usually clear on their own but sometimes require a course of antibiotics.


This child care article was last reviewed or updated on Wednesday, 14 October 2020


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