Earache ("otalgia") is a common complaint in children and this is usually either due to a external ear infection (otitis externa – in which there is infection and inflammation of the external ear canal), or a middle ear infection (otitis media – in which there is a fluid or pus build up in the middle ear). Other causes may include foreign bodies pushed into the ear canal by a child, or pain in the ear referred from another site (eg. from a sore throat or tooth problem).
Older children will often be able to tell their parents that their ear is painful. This can cause them significant distress, and there may also be reduced hearing. Fever may be present, especially in middle ear infections. A young child may not be able to say what is wrong, but may pull on to one ear. Sometimes, middle ear infections may present with fever and vomiting.
All earaches should be assessed by a doctor.
It is important to differentiate between the different causes of earches
as the treatments differ.
Simple measures you can take to relieve your child's symptoms:
• Follow your doctor's prescribed treatment. This may include ear drops, nasal decongestants and antibiotics.
• Give your child a pain-killer if the earache is causing distress.
• Distract your child by playing games or reading stories.
• Avoid swimming or getting water in your child's ear during a bath. Do not use cotton buds to clean your child's ear, and do not instill ear drops unless prescribed by your doctor.
Seek Further Medical Advice If:
• The earache becomes more severe or does not settle after 1 to 2 days of medication
• Fever, if present, does not settle after 1 to 2 days of medication
• Discharge suddenly appears from your child's ear (often with sudden reduction in the severity of the earache). This usually indicates bursting of the ear drum, and this will need to be assessed by your doctor. Sometimes, a referral to an ENT specialist may be warranted.
• Your child's hearing has not returned to normal following treatment.
Find a Paediatrician
The article above is meant to provide general information and does not replace a doctor's consultation.
Please see your doctor for professional advice.