Article at a glance:

  • Common signs of an earache or ear infection include tugging on the ears, fever, fussiness, or ear pain.
  • Your pediatrician is in the best position to diagnose an ear infection.
  • Prevent ear infections by keeping your children up to date on their immunizations, avoiding secondhand smoke, breastfeeding your baby, and practicing good hygiene.


If you are a parent, you have probably seen your fair share of ear infections and earaches. Children are more susceptible 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.

Ear infection symptoms

Unfortunately, figuring out whether or not your child has an ear infection can be difficult—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)
  • Hearing loss
  • Fever
  • Discharge or pus coming from the ear
  • Irritability or fussiness
  • Trouble sleeping

However, earaches are not always caused by ear infections. Sometimes the pain is caused by congestion, fluid in the ear, damage to the eardrum, or 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. However, you will need to seek immediate medical attention if you notice red swelling behind your child’s ears or your child complains of a stiff neck.

Treating an ear infection

The first step is to see if your child has an earache or an ear infection since they require different treatment. 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 ear drops or a couple drops of olive oil to sooth the ear canal.

Preventing earaches

Studies have found that there is a lot you can do to prevent ear infections.

  • Immunizations: 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.
  • Hygiene: 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: 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 will probably be referred to an Ear Nose and Throat (ENT) specialist who can explain options for keeping your child healthy and earache free.

More Information:

Ear – Congestion
Ear – Discharge
Ear – Injury
Ear – Pulling At or Rubbing
Ear – Swimmer’s
Ear Infection Questions
Earwax Buildup

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