Symptoms, Causes, Treatment and Prevention for Earaches

Children tend to experience earaches more often than adults. It is useful to observe your child’s behaviour if they haven’t learned to talk yet. Earaches in children are common. An earache may affect one or both ears, but the majority of the time it’s in one ear. Earaches can be constant or come and go, and the pain may be dull, sharp, or burning. Kids below 5 years are at a higher risk for ear infections. Young children with ear infections get fussy and irritable. They may also tug or rub their ears.

Symptoms:

  • Ear pain (when chewing, sucking, or lying down)
  • Redness of the ear
  • Swelling of the ear
  • Pulling or rubbing the ears
  • Leakage from the ear
  • Trouble hearing
  • Ear fullness 
  • Ear popping
  • Fussiness
  • Vomiting
  • Headache
  • Fever
  • Loss of balance
  • Difficulty sleeping

Causes:

  • Ear infections – outer, middle, or inner ear
  • Change in pressure, such as when flying on a plane
  • Earwax buildup
  • A foreign object in the ear
  • Sinus infection
  • Shampoo or water trapped in the ear
  • Use of cotton swabs in the ear
  • Referred pain – when the pain is felt somewhere other than the infection or injured site. For example, pain that originates in the jaw or teeth may be felt in the ear.

Visiting the doctor:

  • If your child has a persistent fever of 104º F (40º C) or higher, seek medical attention.
  • For an infant, seek medical help immediately for a fever higher than 101º F (38º C).
  • You should also seek immediate medical attention if your child has severe pain which stops suddenly. This could be a sign of the eardrum rupturing.

Treating earaches at home:

  • Place a warm compress carefully over your child’s ear for approximately 20 minutes.
  • Apply a cold washcloth to the ear.
  • Avoid getting the ear wet.
  • Sit upright to help relieve ear pressure.
  • Feed an infant to help them relieve their pressure.

Medical treatment:

  • If your child doesn’t have too much discomfort or a high fever, the doctor will likely wait 24 to 48 hours (1 to 2 days) to see if the ear infection gets better on its own.
  • Your child’s doctor will prescribe oral antibiotics or ear drops if the earache does not resolve on its own. In some cases, (s)he can prescribe both.

Prevention:

  • Make sure your child gets the pneumococcal conjugate vaccine (PCV) and the flu vaccine, which may reduce their odds of getting middle ear infections.
  • Do not clean ears with cotton swabs or sharp objects.
  • Dry the ears after swimming or bathing.
  • Avoid secondhand smoke.
  • Make sure your child has a habit of washing his/her hands.
  • Don’t give a bottle when your baby is lying down.
  • Ask the doctor if earplugs and special ear drops are a good idea if your child swims a lot.

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