How to Handle an Earache
Earaches are common in kids and can have many causes. Here’s why they happen and what to do when your child complains of ear pain.
What Causes Earaches?
Kids might complain of ear pain or pull on an ear due to:
- an ear infection (also called a middle ear infection)
- fluid in the ear
- swimmer’s ear
- ear wax that is stuck
- an object that was put in the ear and gets stuck
- an injury to the ear canal
- a tooth problem, like a cavity or teething
- a sore throat
What Can Help a Child With an Earache Feel Better?
Give acetaminophen or ibuprofen as needed to ease pain (check instructions carefully for the correct amount). Don't give ibuprofen to an infant younger than 6 months old.
Applying a lukewarm cloth to the ear also can help with pain, as can raising your child’s head while they sleep.
Don’t use ear drops unless your doctor says it’s OK.
When Should I Call the Doctor for an Earache?
Call the doctor if you tried home care measures and your child doesn’t seem to be improving, the pain is severe, or the pain began after an injury. Also call if:
- your child has trouble taking liquids or is vomiting
- blood or pus is draining from the ear
- there is swelling and redness or a deeper skin tone around the ear or behind it
- the sore ear sticks out more from the side of the head than the other ear
- your child also has a fever, neck pain, or a headache
Can Earaches Be Prevented?
While not all earaches can be prevented, these things can help prevent ear pain:
- Make sure your kids get the pneumococcal conjugate vaccine (PCV) and the flu vaccine, which might make them less likely to get middle ear infections.
- Do not clean ears with cotton swabs or sharp objects.
- Avoid secondhand smoke and anyone with a cold (both can make ear infections more likely).
- Get kids in the habit of washing their hands well and often, especially after playing around other kids.
- Don't give a bottle when your baby is lying down.
If your child swims a lot, ask the doctor if earplugs and special ear drops are a good idea.