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Taking the Headache Out of Earaches

Article at a glance:

  • Common signs of an earache include tugging on the ears, fever, fussiness, or ear pain.
  • Your pediatrician is in the best position to diagnose and treat an ear infection.
  • Prevent earaches by keeping your children up to date on their immunizations, avoiding secondhand smoke, and washing their hands frequently.

Baby and DoctorIf you are a parent, you have probably seen your fair share of earaches. Children are more susceptible to earaches because the size and shape of their Eustachian tubes are different than adults. It is easier for the bacteria to get in there and harder for fluid to get out.

Unfortunately, figuring out whether or not your child has an earache can give you a headache—especially if your child is younger. Here are some things to look for:

  • Tugging on the ears
  • Complaining of ear pain or a pain inside the head (pain is generally worse when eating, lying down, or sucking)
  • Loss of hearing
  • Fever
  • Vomiting
  • Discharge from the ear
  • Irritability or fussiness

The challenge with earaches is knowing what is worthy of a trip to the doctor and what do for the symptoms in the meantime.

It might be tempting to just keep your child home for a couple days and skip seeing the pediatrician. However, if it is an ear infection it may cause many other problems for your child if left untreated—including inner ear infections and hearing loss. It is always a good idea to have a doctor take a look at it.

If it is an ear infection, your pediatrician will likely prescribe an antibiotic. It is important to finish the entire course of antibiotics or the infection could return. However, earaches are not always caused by ear infections. Sometimes the pain is caused by fluid in the ear, damage to the eardrum, or swimmer’s ear.

Home Treatments
While waiting to see your doctor, the following will help make your child more comfortable:

  • Give the appropriate dose of acetaminophen or ibuprofen as needed.
  • Apply cold packs or heat packs to the affected ear for 20 minutes at a time.
  • Use eardrops or a couple drops of olive oil to sooth the ear canal.

Don’t worry if your child gets an earache after your pediatrician’s office is closed—in most cases it is okay to wait until morning to see the doctor. However, you will need to seek immediate medical attention if there is puss-like fluid or blood coming from your child’s ears, if the ears begin to stick out from the head, or your child complains of a stiff neck.

What Can You Do to Help Prevent Earaches?
First, keep your child’s immunizations current, especially the pneumococcal and influenza vaccine. Healthy habits like your washing hands regularly can also greatly decrease the risk of infections. As always, children should avoid contact with secondhand smoke. It not only makes them more susceptible to earaches, but it also increases the duration and severity of the pain.

Earaches are not contagious, but children may be contagious if they have a secondary infection that is causing the ear infection.

If your child is frequently suffering from earaches or ear infections, speak to your child’s pediatrician. They will probably refer you to an Ear Nose and Throat (ENT) specialist who can let you know your options for keeping your child healthy and earache free.

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