Ear infections in babies and kids are common, with five out of six children having at least one ear infection before they’re three years old. Although the infections are usually not serious, some children suffer from severe and recurrent ear infections.

Parents and caretakers should be vigilant in treating and monitoring an ear infection. The professionals at Pediatric ENT Associates at Children’s of Alabama in Birmingham know how painful and frustrating these infections can be, especially when they’re recurrent. It’s important to understand what causes ear infections in babies so you can take steps to reduce your child’s risk of developing one. 


One of the most common ear infection causes in children is bacteria that gets trapped in the middle of the ear, leading to a build-up of fluid. The Eustachian tubes in the middle of the ear are responsible for draining this fluid. However, babies have Eustachian tubes that are not fully developed yet. The tubes are often small and sometimes not fully open, making proper drainage difficult. If the fluid doesn’t drain, it will continue to build up in the ear, leading to a middle ear infection.

A pediatric ear infection typically occurs after a child has been sick. Bacterial infections like sinus infections, strep throat, and pneumonia can travel to the ear and get trapped in this infection-friendly environment. Ear infections caused by bacteria are often accompanied by higher fevers and longer recovery than those caused by viruses.


Viral infections like the cold, flu, and other upper respiratory infections are also common causes of ear infections in babies. If your child has a viral infection that travels to the ear, it can also lead to fluid build-up. Because viral infections typically last longer in babies and kids, they are at higher risk for an ear infection.

How Do You Know if an Ear infection is Viral or Bacterial?

It’s difficult to know if an ear infection is viral or bacterial in the beginning. If strep throat or pneumonia has been in your house, it’s likely bacterial. If a cold or the flu has been going around your family, it’s likely viral. However, this isn’t always the case, and determining ear infection causes can be a waiting game initially. 

If the infection goes away on its own within a few days, you can typically assume it was a viral infection. If your child’s ear infection worsens over time or is accompanied by a high fever, it may be a bacterial infection. 

In the case of a bacterial infection, you should seek medical treatment from a pediatrician or pediatric ENT. Your doctor can prescribe an antibiotic to fight the bacterial infection and recommend over-the-counter pain relievers to manage pain. It’s best to work with a medical professional to determine the cause of your child’s ear infection and take the appropriate course of action for treatment.

How to Prevent Pediatric Ear Infections

It’s hard to completely prevent ear infections, especially in children who are around other children a lot. However, you can take preventative measures to fight the bacteria and viruses that cause them. Here are some actions you can take to reduce the risk of an ear infection in kids:

  • Wash hands frequently. Have your child wash their hands to eliminate germs and avoid catching a cold or flu.
  • Breastfeed. If possible, try breastfeeding your baby. Breastmilk strengthens their immune system by giving them antibodies that help fight infections. 
  • Avoid exposure to cigarette smoke. Studies show children are at a higher risk of ear infections when they spend time around smokers.
  • Feed your baby upright. Babies should be bottle-fed in an upright position, with the caretaker holding the bottle. Don’t lay your baby in their crib with a bottle.
  • Limit flu exposure. Have your child vaccinated for the flu each year and limit their exposure to children or adults with the flu or other viruses. 

Contact a Pediatric Otolaryngologist in Birmingham For More Information

Although ear infections in children are common, it’s important to contact your pediatrician or pediatric ENT to discuss the course of action for treatment. At Pediatric ENT Associates at Children’s of Alabama in Birmingham, our board-certified doctors have many years of experience in treating chronic pediatric ear infections.

If your child is suffering from severe or frequent ear infections, our pediatric ENTs in Birmingham will discuss treatment options, including the placement of myringotomy tubes for recurrent infections. Contact Pediatric ENT Associates at Children’s of Alabama to schedule an appointment for your child’s chronic or severe ear infections today.