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Is your child fussy and constantly tugging or pulling his or her ear(s)? If so, then it is quite possible that your child may be suffering from ear pain.
Ear pain is a common experience in childhood, and most kids complain of an earache at least once before adulthood. It can cause a lot of discomfort to your child as ear pain can be quite sharp and piercing.
Causes of Ear Pain in Kids
Ear pain, in most cases, is the leading symptom of an ear infection. And although anyone can get an ear infection, it is mostly children who suffer more than adults.
According to the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders, five out of six children will have at least one ear infection by their third birthday. (1)
Dr. Mehak Agarwal, ENT Specialist, says, “ear pain in children is most commonly due to adenoid (enlarged adenoids) or tonsillar hypertrophy (enlarged tonsils).”
Along with bacterial infection, there are other factors that could also be the cause of ear pain in kids, like congestion, a change in air pressure, foreign bodies in the ear, sinus infections, earwax, and sore throat. (2)
Signs and Symptoms of Ear Pain in Kids
If your child is suffering from ear pain, then he or she might show his/her discomfort by tugging at the ear.
The other symptoms of your child suffering from ear pain include fussiness, crying, and trouble sleeping. A mild fever or fluid draining from the ear may indicate an ear infection.
Simple Ways to Get Rid of Ear Pain in Kids
Here are the home remedies for ear pain in kids.
1. Herbal ear drops
A few studies have shown that a mixture of various herbs in a carrier oil such as olive oil may be as effective as anesthetic drops in treating ear pain associated with ear infections. Mixtures may include garlic, mullein, St. John’s wort, and calendula. (3)(4)
Garlic is known to have analgesic, antibiotic and antiviral properties. Mullein has been widely used to treat ear infections and may have antiviral properties. (5) Be sure to dilute any oil used and use it sparingly as they can be irritating to the eardrum and cause additional pain.
2. Breast milk
Breast milk has natural antibodies that can help speed up the healing process of any kind of ear infection.
According to a study in Pediatrics, breastfed babies have lower rates of many types of infections later in life, including ear infections, even beyond infancy. This study clearly indicates that this is an additional benefit to breastfeeding outside of infancy. (6) Breastfeeding is a good option to protect your baby from earaches.
In addition to breastfeeding, you can put a few drops of breast milk into the affected ear using a dropper to reduce pain. Repeat every few hours as needed.
3. Warm compress
As soon as possible, apply some heat to the painful ear to bring some comfort. The heat will reduce pain.
How to use:
- Dip a clean washcloth in lukewarm water, wring out the excess water and place the washcloth on the painful ear for 5 minutes. Wait 10 minutes, then repeat the process as needed.
- Alternatively, press a warm water bottle or heating pad against the painful ear.
- Another option is to heat 1 cup of salt on stove or in the microwave, put the warm salt on a piece of cloth, tie it in a bundle and place it on the affected ear for 10 minutes at a time. Use as needed.
Note: The warm compress may make your child uncomfortable and this can cause a lot of squirming.
4. Steam inhalation
One of the best home remedies to relieve ear pain in children due to congestion, sinus infection, or cold is steam inhalation. (7)
Steam helps alleviate congestion which can help make breathing a bit easier. The warmth of the moisture will also thin the mucus to make it easier to expel.
How to use:
- For small babies and children, run a hot shower and keep the door shut to prevent the steam from escaping. Sit with your baby in the steam-filled bathroom and allow your child to inhale the steam for at least 30 minutes a day.
- For older children, use a large bowl full of hot water and have your child inhale the steam for 10 to 15 minutes. Repeat 1 or 2 times a day.
Preventing Ear Pain in Kids
Though the possibility of ear pain in children cannot be entirely avoided, it can, in some cases, be prevented by taking some precautions.
- Encourage frequent hand-washing in your children, to help prevent infections that may lead to ear pain.
- Ask your child to maintain distance from the family member who is sick.
- Keep your kids away from secondhand smoke, dust, and fumes.
- If your child is congested, suction their nose frequently with saline drops and a bulb suction. This may decrease the build up of fluid in the nose and Eustachian tube.
- Encourage fruits and vegetables. Good nutrition is the foundation of a strong immune system in children.
- Give your child an over-the-counter pain reliever, such as acetaminophen or ibuprofen, to ease earaches. However, consult your doctor first.
- Avoid overuse of antibiotics, as it may often lead to antibiotic-resistant infections.
- Your child’s sleeping position can either aggravate or reduce ear pain. Lying down flat can sometimes worsen the feeling of pressure and pain in the infected ear. Hence, it is recommended to consider changing the sleeping position and opt for an elevating position.
- If you bottle feed your baby, hold the infant in a semi-upright position to prevent the formula from flowing back into the Eustachian tubes.
“When bottle-feeding, place the baby’s body at a 45-degree angle or more with the ear above the mouth beginning at birth. This prevents liquid from going into the baby’s Eustachian Tubes which connect to the middle ear where infections occur. Breastfeeding can be done in any position as breastfeeding and bottle-feeding are different processes,” says Diane Bahr, (MS, CCC-SLP, CIMI) a certified Speech-Language Pathologist and Infant Massage Instructor.
When to See a Doctor
If your child complains of sudden hearing loss, severe pain, dizziness or if he/she has high fever, stiff neck or redness, swelling or pain in the area around the ear, or if he/she has high fever, then you would need to call the pediatrician immediately.
You would also need medical attention for your child if you see fluid that appears like pus or blood draining from the ear, or if the symptoms persist or worsen after 48–72 hours. If your child has ear pain, there are some simple and effective home remedies that can provide quick relief.
Children often develop earaches which can be a source of great discomfort. But the good news is that it usually resolves on its own over time. However, you can use the above listed remedies and tips to make it go away faster.
Watching your child in distress can be hard on any parent, but timely home treatment can lead to swift and easy recovery.