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What is an "earache"?

Children And Earaches

Scott Cohen (Pediatrician, Cedars-Sinai Medical Center) gives expert video advice on: How can I tell if my child has an earache?; How do I treat my child's earache?; How do I treat my child's swimmer's ear? and more...

What is an "earache"?

An earache is when your child complains that their ear hurts, and it can be due to many different things. Teething can cause referred pain to the ears, so you'll see younger children grab their ears and pull them because of this earache. Around three months and beyond children start finding their ears for the first time, so they do tend to grab them and pull them, causing earache again. This has nothing to do with an ear infection, it's more that they are finding this body part and to them it's self soothing. Also, dry skin that is often around the back crease of the ears can be irritating, and a lot of children will grab their ears and pull them because of this. So you want to look to see if there are other causes of the earache before jumping to the conclusion of an ear infection.

What is "swimmer's ear"?

Swimmer's ear is actually an ear infection, but it's an outer ear infection. There are two types of ear infection; inner ear infections, which are when you get fluid, bacteria, and redness behind the tympanic membrane in the inner ear, and then outer ear infections, which are commonly referred to as "swimmer's ear." This is due to water getting in the ear. The water evaporates and causes drying of the skin of the outer ear; and as the skin of the outer ear keeps drying, it thin and thins, and as it gets thinner it makes it more likely that bacteria can get in there and cause infection. Signs of a swimmer's ear would be a child who complains their ear hurts; when you pull on the ear it really hurts, because again, it's the outer ear, it's not inside, it's on the outside, and when you look in the ear you see a red, really swollen ear canal, often even filled with pus.

When do I need to call the doctor about my child's earache?

Any time your child complains of earache, it is worthwhile to have it checked out. There are many different types of reasons why children complain of earache. In young children they may just be exploring and finding out about that body part. Earache may also be referred pain from teething, or they may have an actual outer or inner ear infection. The other reason children complain of earache is if they have a really stuffy nose, as they feel the pressure of that congestion in their ears, just like when we go on a plane and that can cause earache too. But in general, if your child complains of earache, the only way we can tell if it's an infection or not is by looking at it. So you should bring them in when they complain of earache, so we can look in their ears.