Springdale Mason Pediatrics

Earache - Symptom

Definition

  • Pain in or around the ear (an earache)
  • The older child complains about ear pain
  • Younger child acts like he did with last ear infection or cries a lot
  • Symptoms of a cold are also often present when ear infections are the cause. These can include a runny nose, sore throat and cough. May also have a fever.

Call or Return If

  • Pain becomes severe
  • Pus drains out of the ear canal
  • Your child becomes worse

About This Topic

Causes

  • Usually due to an ear infection of the middle ear (space behind the eardrum)
  • Ear infections can be caused by viruses or bacteria. Usually, a doctor can tell the difference by looking at the eardrum.
  • Ear infections peak at age 6 months to 2 years
  • The onset of ear infections is often on day 3 of a cold
  • Problems in the ear canal can also cause ear pain. Examples are swimmer's ear or a big piece of earwax. A cotton swab or fingernail can cause a scrape in the canal.
  • Ear pain can also be referred pain from a tonsil infection or tooth decay.

After Care Advice

Overview:
  • Your child may have an ear infection. The only way to be sure is to look at the eardrum.
  • It is safe to wait until your doctor's office is open.
  • Ear pain can be helped with pain medicine and eardrops.
  • Here is some care advice that should help until you see your doctor.
Pain Medicine:
  • To help with the pain, give acetaminophen (such as Tylenol) or ibuprofen. Use as needed.
Cold Pack:
  • Put a cold wet washcloth on the outer ear for 20 minutes. This should help the pain until the pain medicine starts to work.
  • Note: Some children prefer heat for 20 minutes.
  • Caution: Do not keep hot or cold packs on too long. This could cause a burn or frostbite.
Eardrops:
  • If pain medicine does not help the pain, try eardrops. You can use plain olive oil or mineral oil (baby oil).
  • Use 3 drops every 4 hours.
  • Prescription eardrops for pain are sometimes used. (Same dose).
  • Caution: Don't use eardrops if your child has ear tubes. Also, don't use if your child has a hole in the eardrum.
Fever:
  • For fevers above 102° F (39° C), give acetaminophen (such as Tylenol) or ibuprofen. Note: Lower fevers are important for fighting infections.
  • For ALL fevers: Keep your child well hydrated. Give lots of cold fluids.
Return to School:
  • Can return to school or child care when the fever is gone.
  • An ear infection cannot be spread to others.

Author: Barton Schmitt MD, FAAP
Copyright 2000-2020 Schmitt Pediatric Guidelines LLC
Disclaimer: This health information is for educational purposes only. You the reader assume full responsibility for how you choose to use it.
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