If your child has a sharp, dull, or burning pain in his ear, he's suffering an earache, a common reason parents take their children to the doctor.
Several things can cause earaches, including Swimmer's ear (where the skin of the ear canal is inflamed), pressure or elevation changes (that stretch the sensitive ear drum), and ear infections. The Eustachian tube runs from the middle of each ear to the back of the throat. This tube drains fluid normally made in the middle ear. If the tube gets blocked, fluid can build up, leading to infection. This can lead to pressure behind the ear drum or an ear infection.
If your child has an earache, your child will complain of ear pain. Babies with an earache will often be fussy and not sleep well. Many children have temporary hearing loss during, and right after, an ear infection or other cause of earache.
Children under 6 months old who might have an ear infection need to see a doctor. Your child's doctor will look inside the child's ear using an instrument called an otoscope. The doctor might see areas of redness, air bubbles behind the ear drum, and fluid inside the middle ear.
You can relieve an earache by placing a warm or cold pack or a warm or cold wet wash cloth to your child's ear for 20 minutes. For children old enough to safely chew gum, chewing may help relieve the pain and pressure of an earache. Oral pain medications or over-the-counter ear drops can help, as long as your child's eardrum has not ruptured. Vibrating devices, such as the EarDoc, are one way to relieve pain without medications.
If an infection caused your child's earache, it is very treatable, but it may come back again. If your child has to take an antibiotic, make sure he takes all of the medicine.
Review Date: 2/18/2016
Reviewed By: Laura J. Martin, MD, MPH, ABIM Board Certified in Internal Medicine and Hospice and Palliative Medicine, Atlanta, GA. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Isla Ogilvie, PhD, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.