First Aid: Earaches

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First Aid

Earaches in children are common. They can be caused by fluid behind the eardrum, an infection in the middle part of the ear, or an infection in the ear canal (also known as swimmer's ear). Kids under 5 years old are at risk for ear infections, especially after upper respiratory infections.

Signs and Symptoms

  • ear pain (especially when chewing, sucking, or lying down)
  • redness or swelling of the eardrum or outer ear
  • pulling or rubbing the ears
  • leakage from the ear
  • difficulty hearing
  • ear fullness or popping
  • fussiness
  • vomiting
  • headache
  • fever

What to Do

  • Call the doctor to have your child's ears checked.
  • Give acetaminophen or ibuprofen as needed to relieve pain (check instructions carefully for correct amount).
  • If an antibiotic is prescribed, make sure your child finishes all of the medicine as instructed.

Seek Medical Care

If:

  • your child appears ill while on antibiotics
  • the ear drains pus-like fluid or blood
  • the ear pain worsens
  • there is swelling and redness behind the ear
  • the ear begins to stick out from the side of the head

Think Prevention!

  • Make sure your kids get 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.
  • Avoid secondhand smoke and anyone with a cold (both can increase the likelihood of ear infections).
  • Make sure kids get in the habit of washing their hands, especially after playing around other kids.
  • Don't give a bottle when your baby is lying down.
  • Ask the doctor if earplugs and alcohol ear drops are a good idea for a child who swims a lot.

Reviewed by: Steven Dowshen, MD
Date reviewed: April 2014



Related Resources

OrganizationAAP Pediatric Referral Department Use this website to find a pediatrician in your area or to find general health information for parents from birth through age 21.
OrganizationNational Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders This division of the National Institutes of Health is devoted to preventing, detecting, diagnosing, and treating hearing problems and other communication disorders.
Web SiteAmerican Academy of Audiology The American Academy of Audiology, the world's largest professional organization of, by and for more than 10,000 audiologists, is dedicated to providing quality hearing care to the public.


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Note: All information is for educational purposes only. For specific medical advice, diagnoses, and treatment, consult your doctor.

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