Chronic Ear Infections Make The Toddler Years Even Harder

by Jorrie Varney
Originally Published: 
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I don’t have a teenager yet, so I can say with confidence that the toddler years have been some of the toughest years of parenting. Toddlers are naturally driven to test their boundaries and can’t be left alone for more two minutes without destroying the world. They are emotionally unstable, have little awareness of danger, and insist on doing everything themselves. There is nothing easy about dealing with a toddler. Tantrums and irrational outbursts are just part of life.

It’s not ideal, but we all learn to roll with it, because let’s be honest, there are really no other options. You can’t make a toddler do what you want them to unless you are a wizard. They are uncontrollable creatures, who sometimes do what you hope they will, and other times act like ridiculous fools.

After surviving the toddler years with my first child, I didn’t think they could get much worse. I shouldn’t have tempted the universe with that thought, because my second kid’s toddler years were definitely worse.

My son got his first ear infection when he was about 6 months old. I didn’t think much of it, because ear infections are pretty common, and most can be resolved with antibiotics. But then he got another, and another, and before long he had an ear infection more often than he didn’t. I learned quickly that chronic ear infections definitely make the toddler years even harder. He was constantly in pain, because his ear infections weren’t resolving with antibiotics. He had tubes surgically placed in his ears shortly after his first birthday, to combat infection and help his little ears drain more efficiently.

I’d heard parent after parent tell me that when their child got tubes it changed their lives for the better. I was so hopeful that this would be the miracle cure for us too. Wrong again. While the tubes helped initially, he continued to get ear infections. His behavior was all over the map, and he was constantly grumpy or crying. It was awful for all of us, but I felt terrible for him. Oral mediation, ear drops, and fever reducers became part of our everyday life. He hated the ear drops, and would run from me, screaming, begging me not to give them. Let’s just say, there were several times we were both crying.

We saw an otolaryngologist (ear doctor) weekly to assess the infection, and change our course of treatment if needed. He hated that too, and I can’t blame him, so did I. It was such a helpless feeling to see him in pain and not be able to make it better, despite intervention by the best doctors in the area.

His behavior continued to be challenging, and I often got reports from daycare about his emotional outbursts or tantrums. I apologized, and promised we were working on it, but knew in my heart we were all doing our best already. His sleep was horrendous, because who can sleep when they’re in pain. Even toddlers who are well rested and healthy often have challenging behavior, so not only were we dealing with that normal toddler drama, but also the sleeplessness and health issues. Needless to say, we were all physically and emotionally exhausted.

Today infection-prone child is a healthy, happy 4-year-old. He’s had five surgeries to repair the damage done by persistent infections, with the most recent being a little more than a month ago. We are hopeful the most recent surgery was our last. He has been infection-free for over a year, and we are cautiously optimistic.

Although ear infections are common, the extent of my son’s ear infections aren’t common, nor are the subsequent surgeries. There is nothing easy about raising a toddler, it takes so much patience and persistence. It’s hard to see your kids sick, no matter their age, but for me, it’s definitely harder when they are toddlers and can’t tell you exactly how they’re feeling. It leaves a mother’s imagination to wander and conjure up the worst scenarios. During the course of my son’s illness, I questioned myself constantly, wondering if I was doing the right thing, or the best thing for him.

Dealing with toddlers involves a lot of guess work—even on a good day. I’m hopeful the worst is behind us. His behavior continues to improve every day, and it’s safe to say we are now dealing with the drama of a preschooler. Here’s hoping that drama is limited to strong opinions, general silliness, and the occasional scraped knee. That’s something I think we can both handle.

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