An essential guide to earache


What are the causes of earache and ear pain in young children and what are the best ways of dealing with them? Meredith Jones Russell reports

Treatments range from painkillers to inserting grommets
Treatments range from painkillers to inserting grommets

Earache and ear pain are common, particularly in young children. It can be painful, but is not usually a sign of anything serious. Earache and ear pain can affect one or both ears.

WHAT CAUSES IT?

Earache and pain can be caused by many things, but sometimes it is not known by what. How long an earache lasts depends on what is causing it.

Most earaches in children are caused by ear infections, which usually start to improve after a few days. However, ear pain with toothache can often be caused by teething or a dental abscess, while ear pain when swallowing can be indicative of a sore throat, tonsillitis, or quinsy, a complication of tonsillitis. Ear pain with a fever can point towards an ear infection, cold or flu.

A change in hearing can be a result of an object stuck in the ear, a perforated eardrum, a build-up of earwax or ‘glue ear’.

Glue ear is when the empty middle part of the ear canal fills with fluid, often causing temporary hearing loss, and usually clears up within three months.

If a child has glue ear in both ears, or is significantly affected by the condition, however, they may be offered hearing aids or a balloon device in the nose to help release the pressure in the middle ear. Grommets, which are small tubes inserted into the eardrum to improve hearing, may also be suggested.

HOW CAN YOU SPOT EARACHE IN YOUNG CHILDREN?

A young child might have earache if they:

  • rub or pull their ear
  • do not react to some sounds
  • have a temperature of 38°C or above
  • are irritable or restless
  • are off their food
  • keep losing their balance.

WHAT IS THE TREATMENT?

There are some things you can do to help relieve ear pain and earache, such as:

  • using painkillers, such as paracetamol or ibuprofen
  • placing a warm or cold flannel on the ear
  • seeing a pharmacist about possible options.
  • However, try to avoid:
  • putting anything inside the ear, such as cotton buds
  • trying to remove earwax
  • letting water get inside the ear.

WHEN DO YOU SEE A DOCTOR?

Take a child to the GP if they have earache for more than three days or keep getting earache.

Get an urgent appointment or call 111 if they:

  • become generally unwell
  • have a very high temperature or feel hot and shivery
  • have swelling around the ear
  • have fluid coming from the ear
  • experience hearing loss or a change in hearing
  • have something stuck in the ear
  • are under two and have earache in both ears.

Adapted from the NHS website, www.nhs.uk/conditions/earache

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