Earache In Children: Causes, Symptoms, Treatment, And Remedies

Earache In Children Causes, Symptoms, Treatment, And Remedies

Image: iStock


Earaches are common in children and can be caused by several factors. For instance, you may notice the ear pain in your child occurring around the same time as a respiratory infection. This is because respiratory tract infections may spread to the ears, leading to earaches. Sometimes, these earaches may also be due to a perforated eardrum (1) (2).

Diagnosing and treating earaches involves identifying the underlying cause and providing treatment accordingly. Although earaches may not always be severe, they can irritate the child and affect their everyday activities. They may also come in intervals or be persistent.

Read more about earaches in children, including their causes, diagnosis, and treatment to help provide your child with the ideal care.

Is It Normal For Children To Have Earaches?

Earaches in children are common since their ears could get triggered even during the common flu. Furthermore, the following factors make children even more prone to earaches than adults (1).

  • The eustachian tube of a child is smaller than that of an adult; hence, making the drainage of fluids from the ear difficult when the tube swells or gets blocked due to a respiratory illness or cold.
  • A child’s immunity is still developing, thus making them more susceptible to infections.
  • The adenoids, a lymphatic tissue behind the nose that balances the body’s fluids and fights infections, can become infected. The infection could then extend to the eustachian tube and the ear.

How Does The Ear Work?

How Does The Ear Work

Image: Shutterstock

The working of the ear entails a series of complex events that occur almost simultaneously. First, any sound we hear through the external ears (pinnae) travels and reaches the eardrum through the ear canals. Next, the sound vibrations from the eardrum stimulate the three tiny bones—the malleus, incus, and stapes—of the middle ear, which in turn transfer the vibrations to the inner ear (3) (4).

The inner ear consists of a fluid-filled and spiral-shaped bone called the cochlea. As the stapes vibrates, it initiates a wave-like motion in the fluid of the cochlea. This, in turn, stimulates the microscopic hair cells in the cochlea to vibrate.

Further, each hair cell detects a specific pitch or frequency of sound it is designed to respond to and triggers the nerve impulses, which ultimately reach the brain’s hearing center called the auditory cortex via the auditory nerve and are converted into meaningful sound (3).

Causes Of Earache In Children

The outer and middle ears are the common sites of pain as infections or blockages of the ear canals could trigger an earache. Here are some common causes of earaches (4) (5) (6).

  1. Ear infection: A respiratory infection could spread bacteria and viruses to the ear canals and cause a middle ear infection, also called otitis media. Otitis media is one of the most common causes of earache.
  1. Ear canal injury: Accidental scraping off the ear canal by a cotton bud or any foreign object could lead to an ear canal injury.
  1. Swimmer’s ear: It is an infection of the outer ear canal commonly seen in swimmers.
  1. Blockage: A lump of ear wax could block the ear canals and increase the pressure within, thus causing pain. Regular usage of earbuds is a common cause of ear canal blockage, as these buds may push the wax deeper into the ear.
  1. Altitude changes: Earache is a common complaint during altitude changes. The sudden altitude changes during mountain climbing or landing of an airplane could cause earaches.
  1. Pierced ear infection: This is another common cause of earache in children and can cause excruciating pain if not treated on time.
  1. Other causes: In some cases, earache could also be caused by teething, dental abscesses, and sinusitis.

Signs And Symptoms Of Earache In Children

Sharp pain in the ear is the major sign of earache. Your child may also manifest the following symptoms (4) (5) (7).

  • Pain in and around the ear
  • Pink or red swelling behind the ear
  • Red, swollen, and painful outer ear
  • Stiff neck
  • Muffled hearing
  • Fluid discharge from the ear
  • Constant pulling or rubbing of the ear
  • Insomnia
  • Loss of balance
  • Decreased response to auditory cues
  • Fever
  • Irritability and constant crying
  • Disinterest in eating (due to severe pain while swallowing)

Diagnosing Earache In Children

The preliminary analysis for earache includes physical examination using any of the following options (1) (4).

  1. Otoscope: It is an illuminating tool to check the condition of the eardrum and ear canal. An otoscope helps identify any inflammation or redness of the eardrum. A healthy eardrum is transparent with a pink-greyish hue.
  1. Pneumatic otoscope: This tool helps identify if the tympanic membrane is filled with fluid. A medical professional would blow air towards the eardrum using the pneumatic otoscope. If the eardrum doesn’t move flexibly, it is an indication that it is filled with fluid.
  1. Tympanometry: It is another painless method to test for fluid accumulation in the eardrum. It tests the mobility of the tympanic membrane using air pressure.
  1. Other tests: The health professional may test the child’s throat for signs of respiratory infections or tonsillitis.

Treatment For Earache In Children

The treatment for earache in children depends on the causative factors (4).

  • If the pain is due to an ear infection, the cause of the infection is determined.
  • The medical advisor may put your child on antibiotics for a few days if the pain is due to a bacterial infection.
  • The doctor would treat an underlying upper-respiratory-tract infection accordingly.
  • The pediatrician may suggest pain medications, such as acetaminophen and ibuprofen, and also prescribe ear drops.
  • If the pain is due to a physical injury, the child needs immediate medical care. Your health professional may suggest performing an ear tube surgery.
  • In the case of frequent ear infections, an ENT specialist may also recommend ear tubes.

Prevention Of Earache In Children

Earaches usually subside on their own in children. Nevertheless, you could take a few measures to reduce recurring earaches in your child (1) (4).

  • Get them vaccinated against the common flu.
  • Instill the importance of regular hand-washing as this reduces the spread of viruses.
  • Prevent your child from sharing toys, bottles, or utensils with a sick person
  • Breastfeed your child for the first year since studies have shown that breast-fed children are less susceptible to ear infections (8).
  • Make them drink fluids in an upright position to prevent any liquids from entering the eustachian tubes. You must also not let them take a nap with a bottle in their mouth.
  • Avoid smoking around your baby as secondhand smoke may cause frequent ear infections in children.
  • Never use a cotton bud to clean your child’s ears.
  • Restrict your children from placing any object in the ears.

Home Remedies For Earache In Children

You could use the following home remedies to lessen the pain (9).

  1. Use hot or cold compress pads to soothe the pain temporarily.
  1. You could give over-the-counter medications such as ibuprofen and acetaminophen to reduce ear pain in children. Consult a pediatrician to know the dosage for a child. Children under 16 should not take Aspirin as it may lead to Reye’s syndrome (10).
  1. Make them sleep in an elevated position to reduce strain on the ears. Also, sleep on the alternating ear.
  1. Apply ginger juice or ginger-infused oil on the outer ear. Do not put oil directly into the ear.
  1. You may also fry garlic or onion and apply the strained oil around the ears.
  1. Hydrogen peroxide irrigates any blockage and could be used to remove wax buildup. Refer to a medical professional regarding its usage.
  1. Divert children’s minds off the pain by engaging them in their favorite activities.
  1. For pain radiating from the neck, a gentle massage could be relaxing. Apply pressure downwards for better results.

Although the home remedies mentioned above could temporarily alleviate the pain, always consult a doctor before trying any home remedy for your child’s earache.

The constant ear pain could irritate the child and interfere with their daily activities. Earaches in children subside within a few days after the underlying infection is dealt with. Nevertheless, if your child has been complaining about severe ear pain, consult a medical advisor to confirm that the pain isn’t due to an injury.


MomJunction's articles are written after analyzing the research works of expert authors and institutions. Our references consist of resources established by authorities in their respective fields. You can learn more about the authenticity of the information we present in our editorial policy.

Recommended Articles

The following two tabs change content below.

Sindusha MS

Sindusha is a clinical nutritionist with over two years of experience in diverse fields of nutrition. She did her Masters in Food Science and Nutrition and has qualified UGC-NET. She interned as a quality control analyst and as a dietitian during her graduation. She was a part of several community nutrition projects and a phytochemical-based nutrition study during the same... more