Causes of earache
The most common cause of earache is infection, like a middle ear infection or an external ear infection.
Children will sometimes put foreign objects in their ears, which can cause pain.
A build-up of ear wax can block the ear canal and also give your child a sore ear.
Less commonly, the cause of the earache might be a burst eardrum because of an accident, or because a cotton bud or something similar has been pushed too far into your child’s ear.
Your child might also have an earache because there’s an injury or infection somewhere near their ear, and they feel the pain in their ear. This can happen with sinusitis or tonsillitis, for example.
Earache can also be caused by teeth grinding or other dental issues.
Earache usually happens only on one side. The pain can range from mild to severe.
Your child might also have a runny nose, fever or vomiting.
A baby or young child with an earache might pull or tug the affected ear. They might also seem generally irritable and have trouble sleeping.
Medical help: when to get it for children with earache
If your child has a continuing earache or sore ear that doesn’t getter better with pain relief medicine, you should take them to see your GP.
Tests for earache
Your GP will look carefully inside your child’s ear using an instrument called an otoscope. An otoscope has a small camera with a light at the end.
If there’s discharge in the ear, your GP might take a swab for testing. This can help the GP work out what kind of germ is causing the earache.
Some GPs might also test the pressure behind the ear drum using a special probe. This test can help the GP work out whether there is any fluid or infection behind the ear drum.
Treatment for earache
Earache treatment depends on the cause of the earache.
If your child has a sore ear because of an ear infection, your GP will consider what’s causing the infection before deciding on treatment. For example, your GP will prescribe antibiotics if your child has an ear infection caused by bacteria.
You can give your child paracetamol or ibuprofen at the recommended doses to help with a sore ear caused by an ear infection.
For things stuck in a child’s ear, the treatment will usually depend on what the object is. If it’s something soft like a corn kernel, the doctor might use fine forceps or a special spoon to get it out. If it’s hard – for example, a plastic bead from a necklace – the doctor might use a special syringe to flush out the object.
Never try to remove an object from your child’s ear yourself.
If the earache is caused by a burst eardrum, the eardrum will usually fix itself. It’s still important that your GP checks your child.
If the sore ear is caused by a nearby infection like tonsillitis or sinusitis, your GP will tell you what to do about these conditions.