Ear Infections In a Toddler

3206879420_c956c71a83When I dropped Em off at school yesterday, I told the women what I tell them every morning. “If he’s sick or seems sad, tired or cranky, call me. He had a rough night last night and I’d hate for him to be in pain or cause problems for you all.”

They nodded in agreement but then one of them politely said, “Well, I think we’re going to try and keep him all day today if that’s OK. It’s been weeks since he’s been in school for an entire day and he’s missed so many as well! We miss him.”

It’s true. My kid has been in and out of school for almost two months. (Money well spent!) If I do send him to school, I usually get a phone call (or I call) letting me know he’s not feeling well and that it might be wise to come get him. I don’t even question it. I’m there in a heartbeat. But I’m left wondering: what do parents with full time jobs do in this situation? Does their employer get annoyed with them for having to leave to tend to their sick kids? Do they hire on-call nannies for this very reason? Seriously, what happens? Because all toddlers get sick and most schools won’t allow them to stay if they have a fever above 100 and that’s pretty damn common! (Perhaps a topic for another day.)

Anyway, something occurred to me yesterday, clearly so: I’m the mother of The Sick Kid. My son just can’t shake the congestion or cold. His colds move up into his ear canals and Toby and I spend nights on end listening to him scream. We spend days switching between doses of Motrin and Tylenol. We have gone through two rounds of antibiotics which work but then a week after he’s finished, BAM! the mucous builds up and the screams begin. 

I don’t want to drone on and on about my ear problems. (If you’re curious, read this post.) But I will say that the moment he was born I began asking doctors, nurses (and whomever would listen to me) to have a closer look at his ears. They all reassured me that ear problems aren’t genetic. But I wondered, How about head shape? How about the size of the ear canal? How about a series of tubes? Could these things be genetic? He did, after all, inherit my eyes, my curly hair and his father’s everything else. But ears are somehow one of a kind? Like fingerprints?

We visited the pediatrician on Monday for the third time in just over a month. And she finally listened to me regarding my ear history. I told her that my hearing has been destroyed due to chronic ear infections. I told her my eustachian tubes never quite did their job properly. I told her I had tubes twice. I told her that the holes never healed. (To this day, I haven’t ever been swimming without earplugs.) I told her my pillows were often stained from ear fluid. I told her about my nephew (who has similar problems). 

She listened and stopped suggesting that genetics are an innocent bystander. And I’m breathing a little easier now because that means we’ll get to see an ENT sooner rather than later. It also means that someone finally believes me. And I do hope that this means we can finally put an end to his pain.

I don’t want to be the mother of The Sick Kid. Besides, he’s far too cute to keep inside all the time.


  1. I get so frustrated with doctors. I think our own histories have a huge relevance to what our kids experience. Glad someone finally listened to you. Good news is that you get to see a specialist and also that procedures today are much better and more effective than they were when you were a kid. Just because treatments didn’t work for you doesn’t mean they won’t work for Emory. I know a lot of kids who had great results from tubes and no long-term problems. It can work out. You just have to keep searching for solutions and advocating for Emory.


  2. You could be writing this for me. When I was a kid it was the same had tubes every couple of years, surgeries to fix holes which didn’t heal and a son who started having the same issues. Luckily my ent (who knew me since I was 10) understood my questioning of genetics and watched my son closely for issues. In the end he has had no further problems because of it. Don’t back down push the issue, if your not satisfied find another doctor. You will be grateful in the long run and so will your son.


  3. Hi Michele,

    Its a few years old but I thought you might find this interesting: http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/health/5412222.stm

    I hope Emory’s ear problems can be sorted out really soon, it sounds like you all need a break from those horrible infections. Sadly you sometimes have to really persevere with doctors to make them listen. Emory is so lucky to have such a persevering mum.

    And you are lucky to have him, he is such a beautiful little boy!


  4. wait a second…

    you’ve been telling your doctor that you have a history of ear problems, and emory is constantly showing signs of them… and she’s just saying “don’t worry?”

    i think you need a new doctor.

    doctor’s shouldn’t “finally” listen to you — they should just listen to you.


  5. My son was home with me for the first 15 months. He started school in Aug and by Sept had his first ear infection. The infection didn’t go away until he had tubes put in the following April. Since having tubes put in last year, my son has been sick maybe 6 days or so. What I am trying to say is that yes, part of it may be genetic, but part of it also is him going to daycare and catching everything that the other kids already caught. The first year of daycare, school, you name it is always the roughest one as far as your kid getting sick.

    I’m really glad that you are being persistent with your son’s ears. If you don’t fight for them, no one will.


  6. I have no new wisdom. I’d just like to send some hugs and good wishes your way! Nobody wants to have a sick child and I sincerely hope that your specialist is able to help Em and ease his pain. It’s not easy to watch your child be in pain. Hang in there!


  7. I can tell you it’s not easy being called out of work every time your child is sick. Luckily my boss is a single father and VERY understanding of parenting issues, and always tells me to go immediately to get my son. We were home sick Monday-Tuesday this week, went back to work Wednesday. By 11am, daycare called me and said his fever had hit over 100F. They agreed to put him down for a nap, and I said I’d take him home as soon as he woke up, so I left at 1:30pm. Today-he’s sick sick sick sick. He was supposed to spend the day at the grandparents, but pitched a screaming fit when it was mentioned. And he NEVER turns down a chance to see his grandfather. Looks like tomorrow I may be home again. Half a day of work done this week! Part of it I can claim for sick time (as I am sick too), the other part will come out of my vacation time.


  8. Please tell me that some unsolicited advice-giver hasn’t written to tell you that this is your fault, the result of not breast-feeding?

    By the way, the new Atlantic is out and there’s an article about breast-feeding that I think you’d get a kick out of:


  9. You will LOVE Emory having tubes. My son has had two sets and from the day he got his first set he was SO much happier. (And I remember him as a fairly easy going guy to start with!)


  10. not that what i have to say is groundbreaking, but i thought i would offer my support/story. we were in a VERY similar situation. jack is the same age as emory and we were in and out of the dr office every 2 to 3 weeks with what they believe was the same ear infection. sometimes we would go on a thursday and they’d say there was no infection. i wasn’t convinced so i’d take him back two days later and boom – he would have an infection. he could get one in a matter of hours. we did every round of antibiotics – which got harder to do bc he had a reaction to omnicef. i could tell his speech was being affected bc i know the world sounded underwater to him. anyway, our dr straight up told us we inherit our tubes from our parents. my husband had tubes and i was one infection away from getting tubes. in fact to this day, the minute i get a cold my ears start hurting. anyway- at a year old jack got tubes and our ent said the minute he did the surgery – “infection” started pouring out. gross- but i was relieved bc at the time of the surgery he had been on another antibiotic that obviously wasn’t even working! Yes he has had a few infections in the year since but only a few and they were not painful to him. what made me happiest about getting tubes -is that now if he gets an infection we know asap bc fluid comes out. there’s no guessing. also- instead of treating his whole body with antibiotics, risking an allergic reaction and risking him building up a tolerance to antibiotics – we can just put in a few drops twice a day until it clears. he is a happier boy. i know tubes don’t solve everything and it was very hard to decide to go forward with it – and as you know perfectly w ell – they can come out – BUT i had to something for my baby – for the whole family.


  11. Hi,

    At the risk of sounding like a weirdy beardy granola crunching freak (again)….

    have you tried a dairy free diet.

    Worked like a charm for many small people I know.



  12. Sorry to hear Em is still having issues with his ears! I work full time and the first year of daycare my son was sick alot, my husband and I handled it by alternating who took off with him or when he was really sick and wanted momma only I would try to work a few hours and then come home at noon to be with him. Luckliy he is now 14 months old and doing alot better immune system wise. Regarding your doctor telling you genetics don’t play a role in ears and likelyhood of infections, that is nonsense. It is widely known that native americans have higher rate of ear infections due to their canal being shorter and more horizontal. Google it and you should be able to find relevant articles. And yes your little man is too cute to keep inside :)


  13. I am a medical writer who also happens to have “silent” reflux. In the course of writing about reflux, I learned that very often ear infections in children are actually caused by reflux. This is a relatively new finding. If you would like, I would be happy to send you the article I wrote about this.

    This information came from an OT specialist who said that many pediatricians are not aware of this connection between reflux and ear inflections in children. You would be wise to check this out to at least rule it out.


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