Apart from cold, ear pain in kids is one of the other most common problems. About 80-90% of kids suffer from an ear infection by the time they turn three. It is most common between the age of six months to 1.5 years. Though common, when it suddenly happens, parents usually don’t know how to handle it. The reason is simple. Kids below five years of age are not able to communicate when they have ear pain. Ear pain in kids can be very unnerving for them, but it usually is not a serious problem. One needs to understand the causes behind it and keep their guard up to differentiate between serious pain and a non-serious one. Most of the time it is due to an infection in the ear. But it could also be from a tooth infection or a sore throat.
How do you recognize ear pain in kids?
As children are not able to communicate the pain they feel, parents have to watch out for the symptoms. Look out for these to understand if your little one is suffering from ear pain.
1. Discomfort in the ear or holding ear (usually in kids below 2 years who are unable to express)
2. Redness over and around the ear
3. Swelling in and around the ear
4. Discharge from the ear – purulent or pus-like, sometimes even blood
5. Symptoms of sore throat – fever, throat pain
7. Tooth pain
8. Swelling over the cheek
9. Excessive shrill /inconsolable cry: mostly in kids below 1 year even at times during traveling (while in flight)
10. Trouble in hearing
What causes ear pain in kids?
Just like symptoms, causes of ear pain in kids could be many. If you can identify it, treating and managing it would become easy.
1. Middle ear infections
Medically known as acute otitis media, it can occur with or after a bout of cold or some respiratory infection. This is caused by a bacteria or virus infecting and trapping fluid behind the eardrum. As a result, there is pain and swelling in the eardrum. This is the most common type of ear infection and can happen anytime. It also goes away on its own. But if it is a chronic problem, the infection will remain for a longer time.
2. Ear skin infections
A fungal or secondary bacterial infection can happen if the child’s ear canal gets damaged by the use of cotton buds or scratching. Children with skin problems like dermatitis or eczema are also prone to ear skin infections.
Tonsilitis is a viral infection and when it becomes chronic it can spread to other parts of the body. In such cases, the middle ear gets infected and causes ear pain.
4. Dental caries or dental infections
Many times when babies are teething, parents find them pulling their ears. Teething also leads to slight ear pain in kids. Another reason is dental caries and dental infections. When it becomes more severe it can spread to the ears and cause the pain.
This is an infection that affects a small bone located behind the ear. It is caused by a middle ear infection. If the infection is not treated completely, it can damage the mastoid bone and lead to the formation of pus-filled cysts. If not treated timely it can be life-threatening too.
Adenoid glands are located in the pharynx. They prevent our body from infections. But when adenoids themselves get infected, it shows several symptoms. Ear pain is one of the major symptoms. If not treated immediately, it can cause, damage to the ear drum.
Advice from the paediatric expert:
Most of the times earaches occur during odd hours of the day where there are fewer chances of access to a doctor. In such situations, Dr. Charu Kalra, our expert pediatrician says “do not panic”. According to her, these are the five things parents should know:
1. Keep painkillers handy
Always keep a painkiller (analgesic) at home if you have a child around. Ibuprofen or paracetamol is the 1st effective remedy you can offer the child. But make sure the dose given is correct (always better to check the recent prescription of the pediatrician) or read the label of the medicine. These medicines if needed can be repeated in 6 to 8 hourly doses.
2. Don’t use any ear drops without prescription
Don’t put any ear drops until and unless prescribed by the paediatrician. Never use an ear drop that was used before by an older family member. It is essential to examine the eardrum thoroughly before putting anything. No oils or herbal extract should be put in the ears. Such measures can lead to serious infections and can end up getting IV antibiotics.
3. Stretch the jaw muscles
If the pain is excruciating and medical help is taking time, offer the child to chew on a chewable candy or suck a Vitamin C tablet or warm water to drink with a straw. In the case of younger children offer warm milk with a sipper and if breastfeeding, then directly breastfeed. This is especially effective when a child has ear pain during travel and no other medicine is available.
4. Give warm and cold compress
Warm and cold fomentation (alternatively ) over and around the ear is another effective remedy to try. One can go for alternate warm and cold compresses (make sure it is not hot or too cold). Use only a warm cloth or a cold towel instead of an ice pack to avoid frostbite as the ear skin is quite sensitive.
5. Consult a pediatrician if the pain persists
Make sure to consult your pediatrician or an ENT specialist as soon as possible. Once the problem has been diagnosed, it is imperative to complete the course of antibiotics prescribed. Ear infections are quite notorious and can recur. So make sure to always follow up with the doctor. Avoiding bottle-feeding can eliminate problems to some extent as that has been time and again found to be the cause behind many ear infections as well as tooth issues.
6. Don’t hesitate to undergo surgery if needed
In certain serious cases, to avoid hearing loss, doctors suggest surgery. Nonetheless, it would be difficult for the parents to decide as it would be painful for the little one. You can take a second opinion if one doctor suggests surgery but it is advisable not to delay it.