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April 2022

How to Handle Your Child’s Earache


Does your little one pull on their ear? Is your baby extra fussy or having trouble sleeping? It can be hard to know what’s wrong—especially when your child is too young to tell you. But these are all possible signs of an earache. What causes ear pain? Is there anything you can do to help?

Ear infection

The most common cause of ear pain in kids is an infection in the middle ear. This is the space behind the eardrum. It’s estimated that 5 out of 6 kids will get this type of ear infection before their third birthday. Some kids get them a lot.

An ear infection can happen in one ear or in both ears at the same time. They often crop up a few days after a child comes down with a cold. And about half of all kids with an ear infection have a fever. Other signs include:

  • Problems hearing

  • Liquid draining from the ear

  • Feeling off balance or dizzy

  • Vomiting

  • Pulling at the ears and crying (in infants and toddlers)

What to do

Ear infections have different causes. Infections caused by a virus usually go away on their own and are treated with pain relievers. But infections caused by bacteria may need antibiotics to clear up.

It’s impossible to tell what kind of ear infection your child has on your own. If you think your child may have an ear infection, see a healthcare provider. The provider will look in your child’s ears and tell you what treatment is needed. If left untreated, your little one may be at risk for continued pain and even hearing loss.

Other causes of ear pain

Not all ear pain is due to middle ear infection. Other causes include:

  • An object stuck in the ear canal

  • Injury to the ear canal, such as a scrape from a cotton swab

  • Earwax buildup

  • Other types of infection, such as swimmer’s ear—an infection in the ear canal due to swimming in contaminated water

  • Sudden increases in air pressure, such as during an airplane landing or a drive in the mountains

The bottom line

It can be hard to tell what’s going on inside the ear. Never put anything in the ear to diagnose your child’s earache on your own. If your child complains about ear pain or you suspect a problem, see their pediatrician. 

Online Medical Reviewer: Brian McDonough, MD
Online Medical Reviewer: Ray Turley, MSN, BSN
© 2000-2023 The StayWell Company, LLC. All rights reserved. This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your healthcare professional's instructions.
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