Recently a few sleep consulting client’s have experienced earaches and the resulting sleep disturbances with their little one’s. Being that 5 out of 6 children will have an earache before their third birthday and it’s currently peak cold and flu season, it seemed appropriate to do a post about this very topic.
The peak window for earaches is between 6 months and 2 years of age. The reason ear infections are more common in young children is because of their underdeveloped immune systems as well as the size and shape of their eustachian tubes. Ear infections are caused by a virus or bacteria and cause fluid build up in the eustachian tubes, which causes pain for the child. Unfortunately, some children have many ear infections. Others may only have one or never have one in their entire life.
Today, I wanted to help all of the new parents out there understand how to work through an earache and the accompanying sleep disturbances, as well as how to get their child’s sleep back on track, as soon as possible.
Symptoms of an Ear Infection
First things first. How do you know if your baby or young child has an ear infection? Here are a few very common symptoms:
- Tugging at their ears
- Disrupted sleep, especially at night
- Fever over 100F
- Ear drainage
- Vomiting or diarrhea
- Crying more than usual
- Loss of balance
It’s important to understand that your child may not have any of these symptoms. Sometimes the only symptom, or earliest symptom, is disrupted sleep.
Why Do Ear Infections Affect Sleep?
The reason ear infections affect sleep so predominately is because when a child is lying flat for long periods of time, it allows fluid to pool in and around their eardrum. This causes additional pressure and inflammation. This is uncomfortable and causes pain for the baby or young child.
If you suspect your child has an ear infection, take them to the pediatrician for diagnosis. Once diagnosed and based on the severity of infection, antibiotics or a natural remedy will be recommended. Ibuprofen is generally more helpful for the pain and inflammation than Tylenol. Most ear infections will clear up in 3 to 10 days.
In the Meantime
While your child is actively recovering from an ear infection, do your best to help them stay comfortable and get the sleep they need. Try not deviate too much from their normal routine. You want to be responsive and make sure they are okay, but minimize the amount of habits that will need to be changed once they are better. For example, if your child is sleeping in their own crib/bed, do your best to help them to continue to sleep there.
Getting Sleep Back on Track After an Ear Infection
Before helping your child get back to their healthy sleep routine, make sure he/she first, no longer has an ear infection. If you are unsure, take them to the pediatrician for a re-check. Once given the all clear, you can either proceed with sleep training, or get back to your normal sleep routine.
Often, parents have a hard time distinguishing whether or not they should proceed with sleep training or why their child is continuing to wake so frequently and for so long. A recent client’s 21 month old went 15 straight days of waking multiple times at night. Sometimes what happens is that the frequent night wakings become habitual. Your child has become accustomed to you checking on them many times per night. Once you are sure there is no infection, it is okay to help your child get their sleep back on track.
Need help getting your child’s sleep back on track?