Middle Ear Fluid in Children: Care Instructions

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Picture of the anatomy of the ear and of the middle ear

Overview

Fluid often builds up inside the ear during a cold or allergies. Usually the fluid drains away, but sometimes a small tube in the ear, called the eustachian tube, stays blocked for months.

Symptoms of fluid buildup may include:

  • Popping, ringing, or a feeling of fullness or pressure in the ear. Children often have trouble describing this feeling. They may rub their ears trying to relieve the pressure.
  • Trouble hearing. Children who have problems hearing may seem like they are not paying attention. Or they may be grumpy or cranky.
  • Balance problems and dizziness.

In most cases, you can treat your child at home.

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?

  • In most children, the fluid clears up within a few months without treatment. Have your child's hearing tested if the fluid lasts longer than 3 months.
  • If your child uses a pacifier and is more then 12 months old, try to limit its use to only nighttime hours.
  • Keeping your child away from secondhand smoke in closed spaces, such as a car or house, can also help the fluid go away.

When should you call for help?

Call your doctor now or seek immediate medical care if:

  • Your child has symptoms of infection, such as:
    • Increased pain, swelling, warmth, or redness.
    • Pus draining from the area.
    • A fever.

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

  • Your child has changes in hearing.
  • Your child does not get better as expected.

Where can you learn more?

Go to https://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.