Category: Symptoms

What to Do About Your Child’s Earache

Kids commonly complain of earaches.

Some don’t necessarily complain of an earache (otalgia), but just tug at their ears or a little more fussy than usual, so you might just think that it’s their ears.

Surprisingly, an earache doesn’t always mean that your kids have an ear infection.

Why Does Your Child’s Ear Hurt?

Tick bites would be a rare cause of ear pain.
Tick bites would be a rare cause of ear pain. Photo by Vincent Iannelli, MD

So what else besides an actual ear infection can cause an earache?

Does your child have a new tooth coming in?

Has he been swimming? (swimmer’s ear)

Does he have a sore throat or runny nose? (although most middle ear infections come after a few days of cold symptoms, simply having a sore throat or runny nose might cause some ear pain)

As you can imagine, lots of things can cause earaches, but the most common include:

  • teething
  • swimmer’s ear (otitis externa) – unlike otitis media, these kids typically have outer ear pain, or pain when you move or tug on their ear lobe
  • middle ear effusions – fluid that is left over in the middle ear after an ear infection (has nothing to do with swimming)
  • sinus congestion – some kids associate the extra ear popping that comes with allergies or a cold/sinus infection as being painful or uncomfortable
  • pharyngitis – because of referred pain, some kids with sore throats complain of ear pain instead of throat pain

And then some younger kids simply tug on their ears because they can. They are otherwise well, sleeping all night, eating well, and aren’t fussy.

What else can cause earaches? A toothache, too much earwax, or that rock your kid put in his ear a few weeks ago…

What to Do About Your Child’s Earache

Once you know why your child has an earache, which typically means a trip to your pediatrician, you need to know what to do about it.

You’re thinking a prescription for an antibiotic is coming, right?

Many parents will be happy to hear that most earaches won’t mean an automatic antibiotic prescription. Instead, your pediatrician will likely:

  • recommend symptomatic care for teething
  • prescribe antibiotic ear drops for swimmer’s ear
  • recheck your child’s middle ear effusion in a few months, as this goes away on it’s own in most cases without any treatment
  • treat underlying congestion from allergies, colds, or a sinus infection as needed
  • recommend symptomatic care for a sore throat

But what if your child really does have a middle ear infection? Then he will get antibiotics, right?

Not necessarily.

Since most ear infections get better on their own, antibiotics are typically reserved for:

  • children under age 6 months with acute otitis media (typically ear pain and a bulging ear drum)
  • children who are at least 6 months with acute otitis media and severe signs or symptoms, including moderate or severe pain for at least 48 hours or a temperature of 102.2°F (39°C) or higher
  • children who are under 24 months with “double” ear infections – both ears are infected at the same time, even if they just have mild symptoms

For most other children, instead of having you start antibiotics right away, your pediatrician might have you wait for 48 hours – the observation option. You can then start the antibiotics if your child doesn’t get better after a period of watchful waiting for two or three days. Until then, an age-appropriate dose of Tylenol (acetaminophen) or Motrin (ibuprofen) can often help control pain or fever.

In addition to your pediatrician, a pediatric ENT specialist can be helpful if your child has persistent ear pain.

What to Know About Children with Earaches

While it is sometimes obvious to know what is going on when older kids complain of ear pain, it is important to understand that not every earache means an ear infection, and even when it does, it might not mean a prescription for an antibiotic.

More on Children with Earaches

Warning Signs of a Severe Case of the Flu

We all know the classic signs and symptoms of the flu.

They can include the sudden onset of:

  • fever
  • chills
  • cough and chest discomfort
  • headaches
  • fatigue
  • body aches
  • runny nose
  • sore throat

And these symptoms usually last a few days to a few weeks, with the worst of them lasting about five to seven days.

Warning Signs of a Severe Case of the Flu

But what if you don’t just have a classic case of the flu.

While many of the stories of this being the worst flu season are media hype, the flu is always dangerous and this is a severe flu season.

That makes it important to be able to recognize severe flu symptoms or signs that someone with the flu needs immediate medical attention, including:

  • having trouble breathing or fast breathing
  • being unable to eat and drink and getting dehydrated (dry mouth, urinating less, or fewer wet diapers, etc.)
  • not waking up easily
  • being inconsolable or so irritable that your child does not even want to be held
  • having chest pain
  • is suddenly dizzy
  • being confused
  • having seizures
  • having severe vomiting

You should also seek medical attention if your child was getting better, but then got worse again, especially if they again develop a fever and a worsening cough. Or if your child has a chronic health problem, like asthma or diabetes, and the flu is making it hard to control.

How will your child be treated? It depends, on treatments might include oxygen, IV fluids, antiviral medications, and antibiotics (if there is a secondary bacterial infection), etc.

And remember that children under the age of two to five years and those with chronic health conditions, such as asthma, diabetes, neurologic and neuromuscular conditions, and heart disease, etc., are most at risk for severe flu complications.

In four of the last deadliest flu seasons, at least half of the kids had no underlying medical conditions.
In four of the last deadliest flu seasons, at least half of the kids had no underlying medical conditions.

But you don’t have to be at high risk to develop flu complications.

Many of the kids who die with the flu each year don’t have any underlying health problems.

PedFluDeath_Characteristics-ages
And at least half of the kids who die with flu complications are school age children and teens.

Anyone, even previously healthy kids, can develop pneumonia, myocarditis, encephalitis, or septic shock, etc., so get help if you see any of the above signs and symptoms that your child with the flu is getting worse.

And get your kids vaccinated. Tragically, most kids who die with the flu each year didn’t have a flu shot.

What to Know About the Warning Signs of a Severe Case of the Flu

Seek medical attention if your child’s flu symptoms are getting worse, especially if it seemed they were getting better, but then got worse again, which can all be signs of complications of a severe flu case.

More on the Warning Signs of a Severe Case of the Flu

What is Causing your Child’s Diarrhea?

Often described as the "cruise ship virus," you can get norovirus infections in daycare centers, schools, or after eating at a restaurant.
Often described as the “cruise ship virus,” you can get norovirus infections in daycare centers, schools, or after eating at a restaurant. (CC BY-SA 2.0)

Why does your child have diarrhea?

Could it be the “stomach flu,” food poisoning, or just an intolerance to something your child eat?

Common Causes of Diarrhea

While parents often quickly jump to the idea of “food poisoning,”  infections are typically the most common cause of diarrhea in kids.

These include:

  • viruses – rotavirus (a vaccine preventable disease), adenovirus, and norovirus
  • bacteria – C. diff, Salmonella, Shigella, E. coli, Campylobacter jejuni, Bacillus cereus, Listeria, Cholera
  • parasites – Cryptosporidium, Giardia, Cyclospora

Not all diarrhea is caused by infections though. If the diarrhea lingers for more than a few weeks or keeps coming and going, then you might consider that your child might have a lactose intolerance, irritable bowel syndrome, Celiac disease,  or other non-infectious cause.

Hints of Diarrhea Causes and Risk Factors

To help figure out what might be causing your child’s diarrhea, consider these questions and share the answers with your pediatrician:

  • Does your child have bloody diarrhea (sometimes a sign of a bacterial infection)?
  • Is your child getting dehydrated? While that doesn’t tell you want is causing the diarrhea, it is a good sign that you need to seek medical attention.
  • Does your younger child (under age 2 to 4 years) have bloody diarrhea that is becoming jelly-like and episodes of severe, colicky abdominal pain (sign of intussusception)?
  • Is your child in daycare? Has anyone else recently been sick with diarrhea or vomiting?
  • Has your child recently been on antibiotics (a risk for C. diff)?
  • Does your toddler with diarrhea drink a lot of juice (Toddler’s diarrhea)?
  • Have you recently traveled out of the country (Traveler’s diarrhea)? Did your child get sick a few days later (could be a bacterial or viral cause) or a few weeks later (parasites have longer incubation periods)?
  • Has your child recently spent time on a lake or river and possibly drank untreated water (risk for Giardia infection)?
  • Do you have any high risk pets, including turtles, snakes, lizards (or other reptiles); frogs, salamanders, newts (or other amphibians); chicks, chickens, ducklings, ducks, geese, and turkeys (or other poultry); mice, rats, hamsters, and guinea pigs (or other rodents); or farm animals (all can be a risk for Salmonella)?
  • Have you recently visited a farm or petting zoo (risk for Salmonella and E. coli)?
  • Has your child recently visited a water park or public swimming pool (risk for Cryptosporidium)?
  • Does your child drink raw milk, unpasteurized juice, raw or undercooked eggs, or undercooked beef, pork, and poultry (risk for food poisoning)?
  • Has your child recently eaten leftover food that had been unrefrigerated for more than two hours (risk for food poisoning)?
  • Is the diarrhea worse after your child drinks a lot of milk or eats a lot of dairy (a sign of lactose intolerance)?
  • Does your child have alternating episodes of constipation and diarrhea (irritable bowel syndrome)?
  • In addition to chronic diarrhea, is your child irritable, with poor weight gain and other symptoms (a sign of Celiac disease)?
  • Does your child also have abdominal pain or just diarrhea?
  • Is your child taking any medications that might cause diarrhea as a side effect?

Once you have narrowed down the possibilities, blood and stool tests, including stool culture tests for bacteria, parasites, and viruses can sometimes help to figure out what is causing your child’s diarrhea. Keep in mind that these are usually reserved for diarrhea symptoms that are severe (bloody diarrhea, fever, weight loss, etc.)  or lingering for more than a few weeks.

And remember that the most common causes of diarrhea, including food poisoning and viral infections, typically go away on their own without treatment. In fact, you can make things worse if you treat some causes of diarrhea with antibiotics, including some Salmonella, Shigella, E. coli infections.

Still don’t know what is causing your child’s diarrhea? In addition to your pediatrician, a pediatric gastroenterologist can be helpful when your child has diarrhea.

What To Know About Diarrhea

While diarrhea is common in kids and we often don’t figure out the specific cause before it goes away on its own, there are clues that can help you figure out if your child’s diarrhea is caused by a virus, bacteria, parasite, or other condition.

For More Information on Diarrhea

Treating Hard To Control Cold Symptoms

There are many viruses that can cause a cold, which means that your kids can get a cold every few weeks or months, and year after year.

And unfortunately, there is no cure or vaccine to prevent your kids from getting these colds. That often leads parents to try and look for ways to help their kids feel better when they have a cold.

Cold Symptoms

Before trying to treat your child’s cold, you have to figure out when they have a cold.

Colds are often misdiagnosed as allergies, sinus infections, and even the flu.

That shouldn’t be too surprising when you look at the classic cold symptoms, which can include:

  • a runny nose – with clear, yellow, or green drainage (green doesn’t mean that it is a sinus infection!)
  • coughing – often from post-nasal drip
  • sore throat – often from post-nasal drip
  • sneezing
  • watery eyes
  • a low grade fever (usually under 102.2F or 39C) for the first few days
  • mild headaches
  • mild body aches

That’s right, you can have a fever with a cold!

Most importantly, understand that cold symptoms typically worsen over the first three to five days and then gradually get better over the next seven to ten days. So they can easily last for a good two weeks, although you can expect improvement in that second week.

Treating Cold Symptoms

Most cough and cold medicines should not be used in kids under age four to six years.
Most cough and cold medicines should not be used in kids under age four to six years.

So how should you treat your child’s cold?

A pediatrician I once worked with when I was a student used to recommend “soup, suckers, and showers.”

However, since treating the symptoms won’t help the cold go away, you could do nothing at all. While that might seem harsh, keep in mind that colds go away on their own and most of the things that we do to treat cold symptoms don’t actually work all that well.

Still, if your child has a cold and doesn’t feel good, some soup and popsicles (suckers) couldn’t hurt. Nor could some time in the bathroom with the door closed and a hot shower going, so your child can breath in the steam (while being supervised).

What about cough and cold medicines?

Because of the risk of serious, sometimes life-threatening side effects, since 2007, cough and cold medicines have carried the warning “do not use in children under 4 years of age.” So anything you find over-the-counter for younger kids now is either homeopathic (diluted to nothing) or just has honey as its main ingredient.

Treating Hard To Control Cold Symptoms

What else can you do to help control your child’s cold symptoms?

You could try:

  • Letting him continue with his usual activities, including going to daycare or school, if he doesn’t have a fever and isn’t overly bothered by his cold symptoms.
  • Encouraging your child to drink extra fluids.
  • Using a cool mist humidifier.
  • Spraying a saline spray or nose drops into your child’s nose.
  • Suctioning your younger child’s nose with a bulb syringe after using saline nose drops. Keep in mind that even with specialty gadgets, like the NoseFrida, you can’t do deep suctioning like they do in the hospital, so any benefits will be very temporary. And this type of suctioning is for symptomatic relief, it won’t help your child get better any faster.
  • Suctioning your younger child’s nose with a bulb syringe without saline nose drops.
  • Encouraging your older child to blow his nose, although since this is mainly to help him feel better and won’t help him actually get better any faster, don’t nag him too much or cause a meltdown if he doesn’t want to do it.
  • Giving your child an age appropriate dose of acetaminophen or ibuprofen to reduce fever and/or any aches and pains.

While there are cold and cough medicines for older kids, over age four to six years, and nasal decongestant sprays (like Afrin and Neo-Synephrine) for kids over age six years, there isn’t a lot of evidence that they work. They definitely won’t help your child with a cold get better any faster, so make sure they are at least helping him feel better if you are using one of them.

Even the popular cold and cough medicines with guaifenesin to thin mucus or long-acting cough suppressants probably don’t do much or anything to help your kids feel better and certainly won’t help them get better faster.

What about prescription cough and cold medicines? Most were forced out of pharmacies by the FDA several years ago because they were never actually approved or evaluated to treat cough and cold symptoms. And the American Academy of Pediatrics has long been against the use of cough suppressants with narcotics, such as codeine.

Most importantly, do see your pediatrician if your infant under age three months has a fever (temp at or above 100.4F or 38C), if your older child continues to get worse after three to five days, or isn’t at least starting to get better after 10 days of having a cold.

And avoid asking your pediatrician for an antibiotic when your child just has a cold. Antibiotics don’t help colds get better faster.

What To Know About Treating Hard To Control Cold Symptoms

Perhaps the only thing more frustrating than having a cold, is having a child with a cold and feeling helpless that you can’t do more to control their cold symptoms.

More Information About Treating Hard To Control Cold Symptoms