What are the common causes of earache in children?

The most common cause of earache in children is an infection.  Ear infections often happen with or after, your child has had a cold or the flu.  These are some of the common causes of earache in children:

  • Middle ear infections (otitis media) are particularly common in nursery-school-age kids and are often accompanied by a fever.
  • Glue ear happens after repeated middle ear infections, that cause sticky fluid to build up in a child’s ear and affects their hearing.
  • A cold can cause earache even without an infection in the ear, from mucus collecting in the middle ear and putting pressure on the eardrum.
  • Sore throat and tonsillitis can also cause pain in the ear, particularly when swallowing.
  • Earwax build-up can cause pain, along with a change in hearing in one or both ears. It can also cause dizziness and ringing in the ear.
  • Teething in babies or a tooth abscess in children may cause one or both ears to feel painful, even though the problem is not in the ear itself. This is called “referred pain”. If you think your child has a dental abscess, take them to a dentist straight away. 
  • An object stuck in the ear, which can happen in babies and toddlers who are prone to putting things in their ears, like beads, seeds, small toys or cotton buds. Do not try to remove the object yourself and see a doctor.
  • A perforated eardrum can cause ear pain with change in hearing.

Flying in airplanes may temporarily cause pain in the ear for babies and small children because the pressure in the air changes and until the ear adapts to it this can push the eardrum in stretching it which can cause pain especially if they have a cold.

What are the symptoms of earache?

An earache may be particularly unpleasant and painful for your child. If your little one has an ear ache, you may notice any of these signs:

• Rubbing or pulling at the ear
• Irritability or crying
• Refusing to feed or off their food
• Hearing problems or not responding to sounds
• Fever (a temperature of 38°C or higher)
• Restlessness
• Clumsiness or balance problems
• Pain in both or one ear

How can you help to relieve your child’s ear ache?

Thankfully, most ear aches are caused by an ear infection in children, which should clear up on their own, in about 3 days. There are also things you can do to help ease your child’s ear pain.

  • Ibuprofen or paracetamol are recommended pain medicine for earache. You can try Nurofen for children, which contains ibuprofen and provides up to 8 hours of pain and fever relief for children over 3 months and weighing more than 5 kg.
  • Place a warm or cool facecloth on your child’s ear.

Remember: Don’t let water into your child’s ear and don’t try to remove wax or put a cotton bud, oil or ear drops in their ear, unless advised by your doctor. 

When should you take your child with earache to a doctor?

If you’re concerned or your child’s earache hasn’t improved within 3 days, you should see your doctor. You should also take your little one to the doctor if they:

  • have earache and are under 3 months old
  • are under 6 months with a temperature above 38°C
  • are under 2 years old with pain in both ears
  • keep getting earache.

Or have additional symptoms such as, if they

  • become generally unwell, such as a very high temperature, feel hot and shivery, have a rash, vomiting, or are confused or drowsy
  • have fluid or mucus coming out of the ear
  • have something stuck in their ear
  • are not feeling better after having pain medicine 
  • swelling around the ear
  • hearing loss or a change in hearing
  • have other illnesses which might affect their ability to fight off an infection.

It’s common for little ones to have earache. Fortunately, your little one’s ear ache is likely to get better on its own. With your help, love and care, they should feel much better in a few days.