TrustCare | Ear Pain In Kids

Ear Pain In Kids

in Blog TrustCare Kids

Sleepless nights. Constant crying. Late-night runs to the drugstore for pain medicine.

For many children (and their parents), ear pain is an unpleasant – even frightening – experience. When the child is too young to communicate what they are feeling, it can be even worse.

There are many causes of ear pain in kids, from ear infections to ear wax build-up to foreign objects lodged inside. Need help identifying the cause of your child’s pain? We’re all ears! Keep reading to learn how to recognize and treat ear pain, when to take your child to urgent care, how to prevent future ear pain, and more.

How to Tell If Your Child Has Ear Pain

Many kids have ear pain long before they learn how to talk. If your child isn’t old enough to tell you their ear hurts, here are some other symptoms to watch for:

  • Tugging or pulling on the ear
  • Fussiness
  • Crying
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Trouble hearing
  • Fluid draining from the ear
  • Fever
  • Clumsiness or inability to balance

The most common causes of ear pain for kids include:

  • Ear infections
  • Fluid in the ear
  • Ear wax build-up
  • Foreign object in the ear
  • Injury to the ear canal
  • Teething
  • Sore throat

Let’s take a closer look at ear infections first, especially since they happen so frequently. Five out of every six children will have at least one ear infection by their third birthday.

Understanding Ear Infections

There are two main types of ear infections: acute otitis media (which affects the middle ear) and otitis externa (or swimmer’s ear, which affects the outer ear canal).

Middle Ear Infection (Acute Otitis Media)

The middle ear is the air-filled space between your child’s eardrum and inner ear. This space houses the delicate bones that transmit sound vibrations so your child can hear. The middle ear connects to the back of the throat via Eustachian tubes, tiny canals that regular air pressure and prevent fluid from accumulating in the middle ear.

Bacteria and viruses both cause middle ear infections. As the germs travel into the middle ear, your child’s Eustachian tubes often swell or become blocked – leaving infected fluid trapped inside.

Swimmer’s Ear (Otitis Externa)

Swimmer’s ear is typically caused by water that stays in the outer ear canal for a long period of time, providing a moist environment for bacteria to grow there. Like middle ear infections, anyone can get swimmer’s ear. But again, it’s far more common in children.

Why Do Kids Get Ear Infections So Often?

Kids typically get more ear infections because their immune systems are still developing and less equipped to fight infections. Therefore, kids are more likely than adults to catch illnesses from others.

Their Eustachian tubes are also smaller and more horizontal, making it harder for fluid to drain from their ears.

When to Visit Urgent Care

A doctor can diagnose an ear infection by looking inside your child’s ear. Some ear infections can be treated at home, while others may require antibiotics. You should visit a doctor if your child has:

  • Fluid draining from the ear
  • A fever of 102.2°F or higher
  • Symptoms that last more than 2-3 days
  • Hearing loss

Seek medical treatment immediately if your child:

  • Has severe ear pain
  • Has bloody or pus-filled fluid draining from the ear
  • Has a fever of 104°F or higher
  • Develops a stiff neck
  • Acts sluggish or very sick
  • Won’t stop crying
  • Walks unsteadily
  • Shows signs of weakness in their face (such as a crooked smile)

Other Causes of Ear Pain

Ear Wax Build-Up

Ear wax plays an important role in your child’s ear health, protecting their ears from dust, dirt, and infection. About 10% of children experience ear wax build-up. Children with a lot of ear hair or misshapen ear canals are more at risk.

In most cases, ear wax build-up isn’t dangerous and symptoms will go away with treatment. Your doctor may suggest over-the-counter or prescription ear drops to soften the wax or remove the ear wax manually during your child’s appointment.

Foreign Object in the Ear

Marbles, beads, and even insects can quickly find a new home in your child’s ear. Young children may not even be aware the object is there until they begin experiencing pain.

If the object is easy to see and grasp, you can gently try to remove it with tweezers. Never poke or prod the object or use cotton swabs (Q-tips), which can push the object deeper into your child’s ear and cause more damage.

If you’ve tried removing the object more than once, stop and get medical help. If your child’s ear is bleeding or they are in severe pain, seek treatment right away.


The nerves in your child’s back teeth branch out to their middle ear, which can cause pain while teething. However, if your child has a fever or seems most uncomfortable when lying down, they likely have an ear infection instead.

Sore Throat

When your child has a sore throat, their adenoids (the small pads of tissue that filter out bacteria entering the nose and mouth) get larger. Eventually, they can block the Eustachian tubes, resulting in ear pain.

Home Remedies for Ear Pain

For mild ear pain, your doctor may recommend over-the-counter ear drops or pain relievers such as acetaminophen (Tylenol) or ibuprofen (Advil).

A warm compress can also help reduce ear pain. Soak a washcloth in warm water, wring out the excess water, and hold it against your child’s ear for up to 20 minutes at a time.

It’s best for your child not to sleep on an infected ear. If possible, turn them on their side or arrange their pillows to keep the affected ear elevated as they sleep.

Prevent Future Ear Pain By Keeping Your Child’s Ears Healthy

Here are some ways to reduce your child’s risk of future ear pain:

  • Encourage your child to wash their hands frequently
  • Don’t allow them to share food, cups, or utensils with others
  • Get your child a flu vaccine every year
  • Dry their ears thoroughly after swimming
  • If possible, breastfeed your baby for the first 6-12 months
  • When bottle-feeding, hold your baby upright so their head is above their stomach
  • Teach your child to never put anything inside their ear, including cotton swabs (Q-tips)

Visit TrustCare Kids for Ear Pain Treatment

When your child is in pain, don’t play it by ear! Visit TrustCare Kids today for all your urgent care needs, including ear pain treatment.

TrustCare Kids clinics are open late and on weekends, giving you peace of mind should you need us. Don’t spend hours waiting in the emergency room – head over to TrustCare Kids, where we help kids Feel Better Faster®.

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