What to look for
Most kids will get at least one ear infection before they reach three years-old. They can be tough for parents to recognize, especially in small children that aren’t able to communicate how they are feeling. They almost always begin as a common cold (the ear infection itself is not contagious). Secretions can get trapped in the middle ear, opening the door for viruses or bacteria to cause an infection that will lead to a bulging or reddened eardrum. Here are some signs to look for:
- Cranky or fussy
- Pulling on their ears
- Fluid draining from their ear
- Cold and or fever symptoms
- Trouble hearing
- No appetite
Fungal infections are caused by parasites (fungi) that live on or in other plants or animals. Some can even live on people and cause skin disease. Some common fungal infections are:
- Body ringworm – this is a fungal infection on the body. Signs and symptoms include circular or oval flaky patches with raised, red borders, itchiness and an inflamed area that could be oozing pus
- Scalp ringworm – this is a fungal infection of the scalp that mostly happens in young children. Signs and symptoms include patches of hair loss, black dots on the scalp, scaly and itchy patches, short broken hairs and raised tender boggy areas.
- Athlete’s foot – this is a fungal infection of the foot that mostly happens in teens and adults. Signs and symptoms include cracked, sore skin between toes, itchiness and raw skin, nails that are thick and discolored and issues with the sole of the foot.
Bacterial infections are caused by microbes and can cause a wide range of illnesses. Infections are spread in many ways, including:
- Coughing and sneezing
- Contact with someone that is infected
- Contact with a contaminated surface, food or water
- Contact with infected animals or insects
This type of infection varies greatly depending on the type of bacteria involved, the health of the person and other factors. Illness can range from an ear infection or strep throat to life-threatening conditions. Some of the most common infections are Salmonella (food poisoning), E. coli (gastrointestinal illness), MRSA (can be deadly), bacterial pneumonia (caused by a variety of bacteria) and bacterial meningitis (causes inflammation of the brain).
What you can do
The best way to make sure that your child avoids an infection is to make sure you and your child wash your hands frequently. It probably goes without saying, but you should wash your hands after doing the following:
- Coughing or sneezing into your hands or wiping your nose
- Using the toilet or helping a child use the toilet
- Caring for someone with any kind of infection
- Cleaning up vomit or diarrhea
- Wiping a child’s nose
- Changing a diaper
- Handling raw meat
- Handling pets or animals
- Before preparing or serving food and before eating
Breastfeeding your child for the first year is also recommended because breast milk contains antibodies that can help reduce the chance of ear infections. You’ll also want to keep your baby sitting up when the feed (as much as possible) to help prevent milk getting into the middle ear area. Allergies are another thing to keep your eye on. If there is mucus from allergies that blocks the Eustachian tube, the odds of an infection go up. Children who are not exposed to second-hand smoke and children that are vaccinated have also shown to be less likely to come down with ear infections.
Because fungal infections spread from contact with another person, keep children away from people and animals that are infected. You may want to discourage your child from sharing personal items such as a comb, bruch or hat with other kids. Be sure they use shoes in public areas and have good overall hygiene. If you have a child dealing with athlete’s foot, you can get specialized sprays, powders and creams at the pharmacy. The most effective topical agents are terbinafine, azoles and ciclopiroxolamine.
There are some things you can do to decrease the chances that your child comes down with a bacterial infection. Washing your and your child’s hands is important – especially before eating and after using the bathroom. Give them a small antibacterial hand sanitizer to have in their backpack. Clean any open cuts with soap and water. Teach them to cover their mouth for a cough or sneeze and keep them home from school to prevent the illness from spreading.
When to call the doctor
If your child has a fever, it is recommended to see a pediatrician. For a child that is less than six months old, antibiotics are likely necessary. For children older than six months, doctors usually try not to use antibiotics if possible. After 2-3 days, if there is no sign of improvement, then it could be time for some antibiotics.
For an infection on the body or face, a doctor can suggest an antifungal lotion. Or, if it is widespread, the doctor may give you an antifungal drug that is taken by mouth.
Signs that it is time to see the doctor include:
- Child is vomiting and has not urinated for 6-8 hours
- A cold is lingering for 7-10 days and is showing no sign of improvement
- Child has a fever of 102 or higher
- Any fever for a child that is younger than six months
- Child is lethargic or is not consolable
Antibiotics may be prescribed to fight the illness. They are essential for a bacterial infection, but not if your child is dealing with a virus. Even if the child starts feeling better and acting as the normally would, make sure they take the entire amount of antibiotics. This will ensure they have a full recovery.