Authored by Revere Health

Earaches in Children: When to See a Doctor

November 26, 2018 | Family Medicine

If your child tugs or pulls at his or her ear for no apparent reason, is fussier than usual, has a fever, fluid draining from the ear or trouble hearing or responding to common sounds, he or she may have an earache. Earaches range in severity. Some are simply uncomfortable while others are outright painful. How bad your child’s earache depends on the cause of the infection. The cause also dictates when you should see a doctor and when at-home remedies will suffice.

Common Causes of Ear Infections

Ear infections can occur in the outer, middle or inner portion of a child’s ear. They are typically caused by bacteria and usually begin after a child has a cold, sore throat or upper respiratory infection. The microbe-friendly environment of the middle ear attracts bacteria from both bacterial and viral upper respiratory viruses. Once there, the fluid build-up occurs either behind the eardrum or in the canal. Rarely ever does it go beyond the drum and into the inner ear.

Although viral and bacterial respiratory infections are the most common causes of earaches, they are not the only causes. Some other typical causes of infections of the ear include the following:

  • Earwax build up
  • Strep throat
  • Sinus infection
  • Water or foreign substance trapped in the ear
  • Use of cotton swabs in the ear
  • Changes in air pressure

Other less common causes of ear pain and infection include impacted teeth, infected teeth, eczema, temporomandibular joint (TMJ) syndrome and arthritis of the jaw. Though many of these lesser common causes rarely affect children, if pain persists unexplained, your child’s doctor may run tests to rule out all possibilities.

When to See a Doctor

Appropriate treatment for an earache depends on the underlying cause. You may be able to clear up a mild outer ear infection with over-the-counter painkillers such as ibuprofen, Advil or aspirin, and warm compresses. However, infections that occur deeper within the ear, such as those that have advanced to behind the eardrum, may require antibiotics. In some cases, ear pain subsides without any intervention at all. That said, if your child experiences any of the following symptoms, you should get him or her in to see a pediatrics medical professional right away:

  • Earache along with a stiff neck
  • Earache along with dizziness or difficulty maintaining his or her balance
  • Pain that is not relieved with medications
  • Earache along with swollen and red skin behind the ear
  • Blood or pus running out of his or her ear
  • Earache and fever despite having been on antibiotic treatment for two days

If your child is younger than one year old and has an ear infection, you should contact his or her doctor regardless of whether or not the other symptoms are present. Also, if you suspect that your child stuck something in his or her ear, get help right away.

If your child demonstrates all the symptoms of an earache, it is better to be safe than sorry. Visit your doctor to discuss possible causes and to determine the best course of treatment.


Dr. Oneida practices the full range of family medicine including obstetrics, pediatrics, adolescent medicine, adult medicine and some orthopedics. She also performs colposcopy, cryotherapy and vasectomies. Due to the volume of deliveries done, her practice has evolved to be more centered on women and children’s medicine, although she enjoys all aspects of family medicine. 



“Ear Infections in Children.” National Institute of Deafness and Other Communication Disorders.

“Earache Symptoms and Treatment.” Parents.

The Live Better Team


The Live Better Team

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This information is not intended to replace the advice of a medical professional. You should always consult your doctor before making decisions about your health.