Child Ear Infection Symptoms and Treatment

Article at a glance:

  • Knowing what to look for can go a long way towards helping your child feel their best.
  • Earaches and ear infections are not the same and need to be treated differently.
  • Healthy habits and immunizations are two of the things that help prevent earaches.

Children are more susceptible to ear infections because the size and shape of their Eustachian tubes are different than adults—making it easier for the bacteria to get in and harder for fluid to get out.

Knowing what to look for can go a long way towards helping your child feel their best.

Ear Infection Symptoms

Unfortunately, figuring out whether or not your child has an ear infection can be difficult—especially if your child is younger and lacks the ability to communicate where it hurts. 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)
  • Hearing loss
  • Fever
  • Discharge or pus coming from the ear
  • Irritability or fussiness
  • Trouble sleeping

Earache vs. Ear Infection

An earache does not necessarily mean an ear infection.  Sometimes another issue can be causing the pain, for example:

  • Congestion
  • Fluid in the ear
  • Damage to the eardrum
  • Swimmer’s ear.

If your child has an earache, it is a good idea to see your doctor to get a diagnosis. The only way to know for sure is for a doctor to examine your child’s eardrum.

But 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.

If you notice red swelling behind your child’s ears or your child complains of a stiff neck, you should seek immediate medical attention.

Treating An Ear Infection

Since they require different treatment, the first step is to see if your child has an earache or an ear infection.

Depending on how the eardrum looks, your pediatrician will decide whether or not an antibiotic is necessary. If your child is fully immunized, has no fever, is over the age of two, and has no history of chronic ear problems, there is a good chance that your child’s earache will heal on its own without antibiotics.

Antibiotics are most commonly useful for children with severe symptoms or who may have other health problems.

Antibiotics can take about 24 hours to start working, so until then, here are some things you can do to 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 homeopathic, over-the-counter eardrops or a couple drops of olive oil to sooth the ear canal.

Preventing Earaches

According to the CDC (3), there are a number of things you can do to prevent ear infections, including:


Keep your child’s immunizations current, especially the pneumococcal and influenza vaccines. The pneumococcal vaccine targets several strains of pneumococcal bacteria, one of which causes ear infections. The influenza vaccine helps prevent ear infections resulting from the flu.


Most ear infections start with a cold or flu, so maintaining healthy habits like washing your hands regularly can greatly decrease the risk of infection.

Avoid Contact With Secondhand Smoke

Secondhand smoke not only makes children more susceptible to earaches, but it also increases the duration and severity of the pain.


Breastfeeding your baby has been shown to reduce ear infections and protect your baby from a variety of diseases.

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

If your child frequently suffers from earaches or ear infections, speak to your child’s pediatrician. You may be referred to an Ear Nose and Throat (ENT) specialist who can explain options for keeping your child healthy and earache free.

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