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5 Causes of Ear Pain

Guest Post by Katy Fleming, MA, LPC, BSN, RN

It’s no secret that children are more likely to experience ear pain and ear infections.  You may notice your infants and toddlers beginning to pull on their ears or drain fluid.  It’s especially difficult to manage these symptoms when your child cannot communicate their feelings.

Although ear infections are especially more common in children than adults, there are several different causes of ear pain.  It’s important to identify the root cause to appropriately treat the pain. 

5 Causes of Ear Pain

5 Causes of Ear Pain

Learn more about the causes of ear pain.  

1. Ear Infection 

There are several reasons why children are more likely to experience ear infections or acute otitis media.  Their eustachian tubes, the tubes connecting the middle ear to the nose and upper throat, are shorter and narrower than adults.   Thus, it’s more difficult for their ears to drain fluid.  

 Another factor is that children’s immune systems are not fully developed yet.  They may have more difficulty fighting off those infections.

Common symptoms of ear infections are pulling at the ears, difficulty sleeping, increased fussiness, and fluid drainage from the ears.  The pediatrician will check for infection by examining the inside of the child’s ears for a red eardrum.  If ear infections continue to occur, your pediatrician may refer your child to a specialist for tympanostomy tubes to better drain their ears to prevent infection. 

2. Swimmer’s Ear

For kids that love the water, swimmer’s ear is a potential concern.  Otitis Externa, commonly known as swimmer’s ear, occurs after water remains in the ear canal.  After long periods, this wet environment breeds bacteria causing an infection. 

This ear pain occurs in the outer ear canal whereas middle ear infections cause pain further near the ear drum.  This condition is treated with antibiotics, however, prevention is key.  After swimming in water or taking a shower, ensure your child is tilting their head back and forth to drain the water out of their ears.  Utilize a towel to fully dry their ears, as well.

ear pain in babies

3. Otitis media with effusion

After having a respiratory infection or sore throat, non-infected fluid may build up in the middle ear.  This condition, Otitis Media with Effusion (OME), is very common in young children and typically resolves on its own within 4-6 weeks.  In addition to pulling at the ears, symptoms of OME include difficulty hearing, sudden loss of balance, and slow speech development.

Since this condition is not caused by infection, treatment does not include medication.  If the condition persists, then myringotomy tubes may need to be surgically inserted to drain the fluid from the middle ear.

4. Foreign Object

Children are highly curious beings and at times, this curiosity leads to potential problems.  Another possible cause of ear pain in children is when foreign objects are lodged into the ear.  If you don’t observe your child sticking the small toy or household item into their ear, then misdiagnosis may occur.

Have your child evaluated if they experience ear pain along with fever, bleeding, or deafness.

5. Ear Wax

Our ears typically produce an appropriate amount of ear wax needed for protection.  A less common, but possible, reason for ear pain is due to an overabundance of ear wax.  This may cause ear pain, difficulty hearing, and even ringing in the ears. 

An important note, you should never use cotton swabs in your ears or your child’s ears.  This can push wax deeper within the ear and even cause damage.

Treatment for build-up of ear wax includes drops and flushing out the ears.

ear pain

Looking for more info on ear health?

Ear pain is highly common among children and has various causes. Reach out to your pediatrician if your child is exhibiting these symptoms.

As a licensed counselor and registered nurse, Katy approaches freelance writing with years of experience and a unique perspective. Alongside her partner, Katy loves to travel the world and embrace other cultures from volcanoes in Iceland to villages in India. 

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