Ear infections are prevalent in toddlers, with five out of six children having at least one ear infection by age three (source). If your toddler has common symptoms of an ear infection, such as difficulty sleeping, a fever, and fluid draining from the ear, you might wonder if you should keep them home.
A toddler with an ear infection can go to daycare if they are not running a fever. This is because ear infections aren’t contagious and won’t spread to other children.
I will explain why sending your toddler to daycare with an ear infection shouldn’t be a problem in this article and look at instances when it’s best to keep your toddler home instead. I will also advise on how to prevent ear infections in your toddler.
Why a Toddler With an Ear Infection Can Go to Daycare
You might worry that your toddler with an ear infection shouldn’t go to daycare because of how children spread germs to each other. A study found that children up to the age of three years old who attend daycare get sick more regularly than those who stay at home (source).
Children in daycare are prone to contracting infections because they’re exposed to many germs since they all handle the same toys. However, this doesn’t mean that toddlers in daycare are at a greater risk of ear infections, as ear infections are not contagious (source).
To understand why ear infections aren’t contagious, let’s explore what an ear infection is and how it affects your toddler.
What Is an Ear Infection?
An ear infection can happen when the eustachian tube, a narrow tunnel connecting the throat to the middle ear, becomes blocked and does not allow fluid to drain out of the ear. A blockage can happen for various reasons, such as allergies, a cold, or an upper respiratory infection.
When the fluid in the ear builds up and cannot drain, bacteria can grow in the fluid. This puts pressure on the eardrum, which can reduce hearing temporarily and cause pain. When this happens, your toddler has an ear infection called otitis media.
If your toddler has an ear infection, they will likely have symptoms such as the following:
- Ear pain, primarily when they lie down.
- Dizziness and loss of balance
- Loss of appetite.
- Pulling their ears.
- Difficulty hearing.
- Difficulty sleeping
- Fever of 100°F (38°C) or higher.
When You Shouldn’t Let Your Toddler With an Ear Infection Go to Daycare
Although ear infections aren’t contagious, the health issues causing them to occur, such as colds and respiratory infections, can be infectious (source).
Therefore, you should follow some essential guidelines to ensure that your toddler doesn’t spread the bacteria causing their ear infection to other kids.
Ensure They’re Cold or Flu Symptom-Free Before Sending Them to Daycare
If a cold or the flu is causing your toddler’s ear infection, it’s essential to ensure their symptoms have subsided before taking them to daycare. This ensures that they won’t be able to spread the bacteria to other kids.
Your toddler should be fever free, without fever-reducing medication, and should not have had symptoms such as diarrhea or vomiting for 24 hours prior to returning to daycare.
Check for Signs That Your Toddler Should Be in Bed
There is no point in sending your toddler to daycare if they’re miserable and feel too ill to participate in activities. If they’re in a lot of pain, they should stay home and rest.
Doctors may prescribe antibiotics for toddlers who have ear infections. If your child has been taking medication for a few days but still has symptoms that are making them feel miserable, you should keep your child at home and consult with your doctor. Your child might require a different antibiotic or further medical treatment.
How To Prevent Toddler Ear Infections
Although ear infections are common in children, there are things you can do to prevent your toddler from getting one, so they don’t have to miss daycare. Here are essential tips.
- Get your child vaccinated against the flu. Preventing the flu can prevent ear infections from occurring. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that all children six months and older get annual flu vaccines (source).
- Give your kid the 13-valent pneumococcal conjugate vaccine (PCV13). This vaccine is also important as it protects children against 13 types of pneumococcal bacteria that can lead to infections (source).
- Teach kids to wash their hands regularly. Teach your toddler to wash their hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds to prevent the spread of germs, so that your child is less likely to catch a cold or the flu, which can lead to an ear infection.
- Don’t expose your child to cigarette smoke. Studies have found that children who live with a smoker have a 37 percent greater risk of developing middle ear disease, which includes ear infections (source).
- Don’t let your toddler have their bottle in bed. If you bottle-feed your child while they’re lying flat, the milk can enter their eustachian tube, increasing their chances of getting an ear infection (source).
The best way to gauge how a child feels is to watch their behavior. If they are playing, drinking, and eating, without fever, they are most likely fine. If they become cranky and begin exhibiting the symptoms described above and do not want to eat or drink. It is time to keep your child home to rest and call your pediatrician.
Teresa is a Registered Nurse in the state of Texas and the mother of two. Opinions and insights on childcare are based on professional knowledge, academic research, and personal experience.
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