Earache in Children: Care Instructions

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Even though infection is a common cause of ear pain, not all ear pain means an infection.

If your child complains of ear pain and does not have an infection, it could be because of teething, a sore throat, or a blocked eustachian tube. The eustachian tube goes from the ear to the back of the throat.

When ear discomfort or pain is mild or comes and goes without other symptoms, home treatment may be all your child needs.

Follow-up care is a key part of your child's treatment and safety. Be sure to make and go to all appointments, and call your doctor if your child is having problems. It's also a good idea to know your child's test results and keep a list of the medicines your child takes.

How can you care for your child at home?

  • Try to get your child to swallow more often. Your child could have a blocked eustachian tube. Let a child younger than 2 years drink from a bottle or cup to try to help open the tube.
  • Some babies and children with ear pain feel better sitting up than lying down. Allow the child to rest in the position that is most comfortable.
  • Apply heat to the ear to ease pain. Use a warm washcloth. Be careful not to burn the skin.
  • Give your child acetaminophen (Tylenol) or ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin) for pain. Do not use ibuprofen if your child is less than 6 months old unless the doctor gave you instructions to use it. Be safe with medicines. Read and follow all instructions on the label. Do not give aspirin to anyone younger than 20. It has been linked to Reye syndrome, a serious illness.
  • Do not give a child two or more pain medicines at the same time unless the doctor told you to. Many pain medicines have acetaminophen, which is Tylenol. Too much acetaminophen (Tylenol) can be harmful.
  • If you give medicine to your baby, follow your doctor's advice about what amount to give.
  • Never insert anything, such as a cotton swab or a bobby pin, into the ear. You can gently clean the outside of your child's ear with a warm washcloth.
  • Ask your doctor if you need to take extra care to keep water from getting in your child's ears when bathing or swimming.

When should you call for help?

Call your doctor now or seek immediate medical care if:

  • Your child has new or worse symptoms of infection, such as:
    • Increased pain, warmth, or redness.
    • Pus draining from the area.
    • A fever.
  • Your child has new or worse pain near the ear, such as in the jaw or neck.

Watch closely for changes in your child's health, and be sure to contact your doctor if:

  • Your child has new or worse discharge coming from the ear.
  • Your child does not get better as expected.

Where can you learn more?

Go to http://www.healthwise.net/patientEd

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The Health Encyclopedia contains general health information. Not all treatments or services described are covered benefits for Kaiser Permanente members or offered as services by Kaiser Permanente. For a list of covered benefits, please refer to your Evidence of Coverage or Summary Plan Description. For recommended treatments, please consult with your health care provider.