All of a sudden, your child starts crying, a high-pitched scream from someone in what seems like unbearable pain, and you have no idea what to do. Because they can’t articulate their feelings properly, it’s hard to figure out where this complaint could be coming from. Did they break a bone? Are they suffering from stomach pains? All you’re able to notice is that they’re irritated, with a kind of pain that seems to be coming in waves and no one can even come near their head. That’s a giveaway of what could be wrong: the baby could have an ear infection. It is estimated that every child goes through this at least once until they turn 2 years old.

Otitis has several symptoms, but constant and sharp pain is a classic sign – it can hurt to the point where you can’t even touch their ear. Pay attention to see if the child takes their hand to their ear when they rest it on a pillow. In kids, along with the inflammation you could see a fever, itchy ears, loss of appetite, difficulty sleeping and even loss of balance. In more advanced infections, it’s possible it could present some secretion in the ears (in more severe cases, you might even see some blood) with a very pungent smell.

Can cold temperatures and water trigger ear infections?

Yes, to some extent. External otitis, which happens inside the ear canal, occurs more frequently in hot weather and happens when water enters the ear canal – from the pool or the ocean, but could also be triggered by excessive humidity. Otitis media, on the other hand, happens inside the eardrumand tends to happen due to colds, the flu and other respiratory issues, which is why it tends to be more prevalent in lower temperatures, but could happen year-round.

Children are more sensitive than adults to these types of issues because the connection between the ear canal and the nose is smaller than in adults (and horizontally, while in adults it’s vertical). This makes it easier for bacteria and virus from colds and the flu to reach the ear.

What can be done to prevent otitis?

If your child takes swimming lessons, make sure to get them ear plugs – a swimming cap could suffice on its own. In case water from the bath or while playing in the pool gets in the child’s ear, make sure to dry their ears thoroughly with a cotton towel – have the child turn their head sideways so all the water comes out. Don’t use Q-Tips, as they push the earwax inside the ear and could leave the ear more exposed.

In case your child still uses a baby bottle, ensure they’re sitting upright when drinking from it, to prevent the milk to seep into the ear canal – breastfeeding does not pose this risk due to the motion and angle of the suction. Flu and pneumococcal vaccines can also help prevent these types of respiratory episodes and, subsequently the probability of developing otitis. And, if your child already has a cold, drain their sinuses as much as possible to avoid the accumulation of secretions.

Never give your child any ear medication that hasn’t been prescribed by their pediatrician. Online you’ll be able to find multiple homemade recipes, but there is no scientific evidence that shows they work. Also don’t use any medication from a previous ear infection in an attempt to treat a new one since they might require different treatments. The pediatrician should always be consulted. If left untreated, otitis can lead to deafness.