First Aid

What Are Earaches?

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 a higher risk for ear infections, especially after upper respiratory infections (like a cold).

What Are the Signs & Symptoms of an Ear Infection?

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

What to Do

  • Call the doctor for advice or to have your child's ears checked.
  • Give acetaminophen or ibuprofen as needed to relieve pain (check instructions carefully for correct amount). Don't give ibuprofen to an infant under 6 months of age.

Get Medical Care if:

  • your child seems ill while on antibiotics
  • your child has trouble taking liquids
  • 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 special ear drops are a good idea for a child who swims a lot.
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Note: All information is for educational purposes only. For specific medical advice, diagnoses, and treatment, consult your doctor. © 1995-2021 KidsHealth®. All rights reserved. Images provided by The Nemours Foundation, iStock, Getty Images, Veer, Shutterstock, and Clipart.com.

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