Earaches in Children

Signs, Symptoms & Causes

An earache is when the ear hurts. Children get earaches a lot. They get them most often between 6 months and 2 years old. But earaches can be a problem up to age 10. The pain can be minor or very bad.


Earaches are a sign that something is wrong. The most common cause of an earache is plugged Eustachian tubes. These tubes go from the back of the throat to the middle ear. Most earaches in children come from infections in the middle ear. They happen a lot after a cold or other infection in the head or throat.


Here are some other things that can cause earaches:

•  Changes in air pressure on a plane.

•  Something stuck in the ear.

•  Tooth problems. Ear injuries.

•  Allergies.

Your child’s doctor should treat very bad ear pain. He or she may tell you to give your child acetaminophen or ibuprofen. Make sure you give the right kind and dose for your child’s weight. The doctor may also have you give your child medicines to dry up or clear a blocked ear. Let the doctor decide if an antibiotic is needed.


You can use self-care on your child if the pain isn’t bad, and if there are no other symptoms. One example is a mild case of “swimmer’s ear.”

To Prevent Earaches

•  Don’t put things in your child’s ears like cotton swabs, bobby pins, or your fingers. You can hurt the eardrums.

•  Don’t smoke. Don’t let your child smoke. Keep your child away from secondhand smoke.

Questions to Ask


To help with pain

•  Put a warm washcloth next to the sore ear. Or put an ice bag or ice in a wet washcloth over the ear for 20 minutes.

•  Give your child acetaminophen or ibuprofen. Make sure you give the right kind and dose for your child’s weight. (Note: Do not give aspirin. Aspirin and other medicines that have salicylates have been linked to Reye’s Syndrome.)

For “swimmer’s ear”

Swimmer’s ear is when you get water stuck in your ears after swimming. This can lead to an infection. To treat this:

•  Have your child shake his or her head.

•  Dry the ear canal with a tissue. Twist each corner of the tissue into a tip. Stick each tip into the ear canal for 10 seconds. Use a clean tissue on the other ear.

•  Use a product like Swim-Ear®. Drop it into the ears to fight the infection.

To get a bug out of your child’s ear

•  Put the child in a dark room. Shine a light near the ear for a few minutes. (The bug may fly out.)

•  Pour a little warm olive oil, baby oil, or mineral oil in the ear to make the bug float out. Pull the earlobe gently back and up as you pour. If this doesn’t work, call your child’s doctor.

To open up and drain the Eustachian tubes

Have your child do these things:

•  Sit up.

•  Sleep with his or her head raised.

•  Yawn. Yawning moves the muscles that open the tubes.

•  Hold his or her nose closed and have your child blow gently through the nose until he or she hears a pop. This can be done many times a day. It can also be done on a plane when it starts to land.

•  Stay awake during airplane take-offs and landings. (If your child is an infant, nurse or bottle-feed him or her as the plane takes off, gets ready to land, and when it lands.)

•  Chew gum or suck hard candy. This helps a lot on an airplane, too. It can also help when your child wakes up at night with ear pain. But only let your child do this if he or she is more than 5 years old.

And try these tips

•  Don’t let your child swim in dirty water. Have your child wear a bathing cap when he or she swims.

•  Use a cool-mist vaporizer, especially at night. Clean it every day.

•  Give your child lots of liquids to drink.

•  Hold a baby upright when you bottle-feed.

This website is not meant to substitute for expert medical advice or treatment. Follow your doctor’s or health care provider’s advice if it differs from what is given in this guide.


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