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Is my son's ear infection back?

He is fussy and pulling at his ears. My son has seen an Ear Nose and Throat(ENT) specialist for ear infections. His ears have been clear for about a week - but now he has started pulling at his ears, has trouble sleeping at night, is very fussy (compared to last week when he was acting normal) and has a lack of appetite.

Should I take him back to see if he has an ear infection? Our ENT said that if he has one more they will be putting in tubes. I just hate to go back again and have them say no they are clear and do nothing? HELP.

Greg Severson | Pediatrician

Greg Severson

Children pull on their ears for many reasons - and some estimate that 60 - 80% of ear infections resolve on their own without treatment within 5 days. So, what is a parent to do? Sometimes the only way to tell if a child has an infection is to have the child examined by a physician.

Here are my guidelines for having a child who is “playing with his/her ears” seen by a physician:

  • If the child is irritable (especially if he/she seems in pain) when laying down and is less irritable when sitting up, he/she should be seen.
  • If a child does not seem to hear, he/she should be seen.  
  • If a normally happy child has suddenly become irritable, moody, or is tanturming more, he/she should be seen.
  • If the child is old enough to tell a parent his/her ear hurts, he/she should be seen.
  • If a child does not want to eat or seems in pain when swallowing, he/she may have an ear infection.  Swallowing effects the Eustachian tube and changes pressure in the middle ear.  If an ear drum is inflamed this change in pressure will result in pain.
  • If an irritable child is manipulating the ear for more than 5-7 days, he/she should be seen.
  • If a child seems to hear normally and is smiling and happy while pulling on his/her ear than that child does NOT need seen.
  • Natural instinct will often point parents in the right direction.  If a parent thinks their child may have an ear infection, I recommend they have him/her seen.
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