Childhood Earaches

An earache is when your ears hurt. Children get earaches a lot. They get them most between 6 months and 2 years old. But earaches can be a problem up to age 10. The pain can be minor or very bad.

Earaches are a sign that something is wrong. The most common cause of an earache is plugged eustachian tubes. These tubes go from the back of the throat to the middle ear.
Infections in the middle ear cause the most earaches in children. They happen a lot after a cold or other infection in the head or throat.

Here are some other things that can cause earaches:

  • Changes in air pressure on a plane
  • Something stuck in the ear
  • Tooth problems
  • Injuries to the ear
  • Allergies

Your child’s doctor should treat very bad ear pain. He or she may tell you to give your child acetaminophen. The doctor may give your child antibiotics if they have an infection. The doctor may also have you give your child other medicines to dry up or clear a blocked ear.

You can use self-care on your child if the pain isn’t bad, and if they don’t have any other symptoms. One example is a mild case of “swimmer’s ear.” (See Self-Care Tips on page 41 of this section.)

To Prevent Earaches

  • Don’t put things in your child’s ears like cotton swabs, bobby pins, or your fingers. You can hurt the eardrum.
  • Don’t smoke. Don’t let your child smoke. Keep your child away from second-hand smoke.

    Questions to Ask

    Does your baby or small child have any of these problems?
    • Stiff neck and fever
    • Upset by loud noises, bells, or your voice,or not seeming to hear at all
    Yes: Seek Care
    Does your child show these signs of trouble? (These signs are especially important after a respiratory tract infection, a cold, air travel, or if the child has had ear problems before.)
    • Pulling, touching, or tugging the ear over and over and over
    • Fever
    • Sticky, green, or bloody stuff coming from the ear
    • Crying that won’t stop
    • An ear that is hot and hurts when you touch it
    • Acting cranky and restless, especially at night or when lying down
    Yes:See Doctor
    If the earache is pretty bad and won’t go away, did any of these things happen first?
    • Something hit your child’s ear or head.
    • Your child blew their nose hard or many times.
    • Your child stuck something in their ear.
    • Your child had a cold, sinus, or respiratory tract infection.
    • Your child went swimming, and now the ear hurts a lot when you touch the ear lobe.
    • Your child was in a very noisy place, like a rock concert or a place with heavy machines.
    Yes:See Doctor
    Is something stuck in your child’s ear that you can’t take out safely?Yes:See Doctor
    Does your child have jaw pain, headache, and a clicking sound when they open and close their mouth? Yes:Call Doctor

    Self-Care Tips

    To help with pain:

    • Put a warm washcloth next to the ear. Or put an ice bag or ice in a wet washcloth over the ear for 20 minutes.
    • Give your child the right dose of acetaminophen.

      (Note: Do not give aspirin to anyone under 19 years old unless your doctor tells you to. Aspirin and other medicines that have salicylates have been linked to Reye’s Syndrome, a condition that can kill.)

    To open up and drain the eustachian tubes Have your child do these things:

    • Sit up.
    • Prop their head up when they sleep.
    • Yawn. Yawning moves the muscles that open the tubes.
    • Hold their nose closed and blow gently through their nose until they hear a pop. They can do this many times a day. They can also do it on a plane when it starts to land.
    • Stay awake during airplane take-offs and landings.(If your child is an infant, nurse or bottle-feed them as the plane takes off, gets ready to land and when it lands.)
    • Chew gum or suck hard candy.This helps a lot on an airplane, too. It can also help when your child wakes up at night with ear pain. But only let them do this if they are more than 5 years old.
    • Have your child wear a bathing cap to help keep water out of their ears.

    And try these tips:

    • Don’t let your child swim in dirty water.
    • Don’t let your child put their head under water.
    • Use a cool-mist vaporizer, especially at night. Clean it every day.
    • Give your child lots of cool water to drink.
    • Hold a baby upright when you feed them their bottle. Don’t have them lie down.

    For “swimmer’s ear”

    Swimmer’s ear is when you get water stuck in your ears after swimming. This can lead to infection.
    Clean and dry the outer canal of your child’s ears gently. Follow these tips:

    • Have your child shake his or her head.
    • Dry the ear canal with a tissue. Twist each corner of the tissue into a tip. Stick each tip into the ear canal for 10 seconds. Use a clean tissue on the other ear.
    • Use a product like Swim-Ear. Drop it into the ears to fight infection.

    To get a bug out of your child’s ear

    • Put the child in a dark room. Shine a light near the ear for a few minutes. (The bug may fly out.)
    • Pour a little warm olive oil, baby oil, or mineral oil in the ear to make the bug float out. Pull the earlobe gently back and up as you pour.
    • If this doesn’t work, call your child’s doctor.

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    Written by American Institute for Preventive Medicine

    Explore Wellness in 2021