Kids Health

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Earache in Kids


Earache in Kids

What is earache?

Earache is reported to be the most common reason for parents to call a doctor out of hours for their child. Most parents have experienced the distress of their little one with earache. It can can be a sharp, dull or burning ear pain that comes and goes or is constant. One or both ears may be affected. Whilst a young child can tell you what is wrong, a baby can’t and seeing him suffering is upsetting. 

When your child has an earache he or she may:

  • pull at the ear
  • cry or be irritable
  • have ear drainage/discharge
  • have some loss of hearing
  • have a fever (if there is infection).

What causes an earache?

Common causes include an

  • infection,
  • an injury, or
  • pressure in the ear (glue ear).


Middle ear infections are common during or after a cold. When your child has a cold, it may cause the tube between the middle ear and throat to swell. This traps fluid in the middle ear and can allow bacteria to grow there and cause infection and pain. The ear canal itself can also become infected. This usually happens during the summer, in children who have been swimming. Middle ear infections always need to be evaluated by a doctor. The ear pain is treated with pain medicines like paracetamol. Antibiotics are usually only used in children under 6 months or when the symptoms won’t go away. Infections of the ear canal are often treated with antibiotic drops, which may also contain medicine for pain.


Toddlers and young children sometimes put small toys or other objects into the ear canal, causing pressure or injury. Cotton buds inserted into the ear can also damage the eardrum. Changes in air pressure (such as during air travel) can also cause pain.

Children will sometimes say their ear hurts when the pain is actually from another place. This is sometimes caused by teething, chewing gum, or an infection of the scalp, neck, or sinuses.

Earache caused by glue ear

Glue ear is a build-up of fluid deep inside the ear, which commonly causes some loss of hearing. The pressure of this fluid can also cause earache. Glue ear is much more common in children than adults.

Your GP will usually be able to recognise glue ear after examining the ear. It often clears up on its own without treatment. Sometimes gromits are fitted to allow the fluid to drain away. This is a minor surgical procedure with very good results for affected children.

How can I take care of my child?

For middle ear or ear canal infections, seek advice from a doctor. To help relieve pain you can:

  • Give your child paracetemol.
  • Hold a cold flannel over the ear.

Objects within the ear canal, including impacted wax, should be removed by your doctor.

To keep wax from impacting, never put things like cotton swabs into the ear canal. If your child has problems with earwax, you can put 1 to 2 drops of olive into the ear canal for a few minutes each day. Wipe away any oil that drips out from the ear. You can reduce this treatment to once per week or less when you see improvement. There are many over-the-counter drops that may be helpful as well. Note that NO drops should be used if a burst eardrum is suspected.

When should I call my doctor?

  • your child has a fever (38ºC or above)
  • your child has other symptoms, such as dizziness, severe headache or swelling around the ear
  • the earache does not improve within 24-48 hours

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