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Everything You Need to Know About Earaches

If you’re the parent of a toddler or preschooler, chances are you’ve had to deal with an earache at some point. In fact, according to the National Institutes of Health, five out of six kids have at least one ear infection before they start preschool.

Earaches can be especially frustrating for children and parents alike. The pain can make kids cranky and uncomfortable and makes sleep almost impossible. And because earaches are most likely to impact younger children, it can be challenging for parents to pin down the cause and proper treatment. 

What causes an earache?

Earaches are one of the most common reasons for a visit to the pediatrician, but the reasons behind those earaches can vary. While the most common cause of ear pain is an ear infection, there are other possibilities:

●       Swimmer’s ear, which isn’t necessarily limited to swimmers. In younger children, it may be caused by injury to the ear canal, dry skin or eczema in the ear canal, or any foreign object in the ear canal.

●       Toothaches – either from teething or other dental condition – may radiate pain to the ears, as can the pain from a tonsil infection

●       TMJ pain (pain in the jaw joint where the lower jaw connects the skull)

What does treatment include?

Depending on your child’s diagnosis, the treatment for an earache can be pretty straightforward. If your pediatrician finds evidence of a middle ear infection, treatment will likely include oral antibiotics. Other treatments include:

●       For swimmer’s ear, treatment typically includes antibiotic drops and an effort to keep the ear dry for seven to 10 days.

●       For an ear obstruction, the pediatrician can try to remove the object during the office visit. If an object is lodged too far in the ear, you may be referred to the emergency room or to an ear specialist.

●       For tooth pain other than teething, your physician will likely refer you to a pediatric dentist for a more specialized assessment.

What can you do to ease the pain?

Once you know the possible cause of your child’s earache, there are some home remedies that can ease the pain. Ibuprofen or acetaminophen, as well as warm or cold packs on the ear or neck, can be comforting regardless of the source of pain.

If the earache is caused by a cold or flu virus, it can help to give a child plenty of water and place a humidifier in his or her room to help secretions drain from the eustachian tube. 

NOTE: Home remedies to alleviate pain should be used alongside a pediatrician’s diagnosis and should not replace a doctor visit. Left untreated, many causes of earaches may result in permanent damage.

Can earaches be prevented?

Though some causes of earaches – such as radiating teething pain – can’t be prevented, it is possible to lower your child’s risk of developing an ear infection.

●       Keep vaccinates up to date, especially pneumococcal and influenza vaccines

●       Prevent fluid buildup by using nasal saline if a child has a runny nose

●       Put a humidifier in your child’s room during cold and flu season

●       Decrease exposure to second-hand smoke from cigars, cigarettes, and even vaping

When is it time to see a doctor?

Because it’s difficult to determine the underlying cause of an earache, it’s always a good idea to visit a pediatrician for a diagnosis. Your pediatrician can also provide the necessary treatment for middle or outer ear infection, as well as possible tonsilitis.


By being proactive in seeking immediate care, you can avoid potential future problems or long-term complications. A local urgent care center like FirstKids – designed just for children – gives you the option to seek necessary medical attention at any time, without waiting for the next available appointment. FirstKids Urgent Care is a fully staffed, walk-in facility serving the Tuscaloosa areas, so there’s no appointment necessary. (If you prefer to schedule an appointment, you can do it online by clicking here.)


The staff at FirstKids is prepared to provide routine or urgent care for children of all ages. The clinic also accepts all major insurance plans, as well as Medicaid and self-pay patients as well.

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