Ear - Pulling At or Rubbing  

This Care Guide Covers:

  • A child who pulls, tugs, pokes, rubs or itches the ear
  • No crying or report of ear pain

If not, see these topics
When to Call Your Doctor

Call Your Doctor Now (night or day) If
  • Your child looks or acts very sick
  • Fever over 104° F (40° C)
  • Age under 12 weeks old with fever. (Caution: Do NOT give your baby any fever medicine before being seen.)
  • You think your child needs to be seen urgently
Call Your Doctor Within 24 Hours (between 9 am and 4 pm) If
  • You think your child needs to be seen, but not urgently
  • Seems to be in pain (or is crying)
  • Starts to wake up from sleep
  • Fever or symptoms of a cold are present
  • Drainage from the ear canal
  • Frequent digging inside 1 ear canal
Call Your Doctor During Weekday Office Hours If
  • You have other questions or concerns
  • Pulling at the ear lasts more than 3 days
  • Itching lasts more than 1 week
Parent Care at Home If
  • Normal ear touching or pulling
  • Itchy ear canal
Causes & Health Information

Causes

  • Main cause (infants): Normal touching and pulling with discovery of ears. This is usually not seen before 4 months of age.
  • Main cause (older children): Mild swimmer's ear. This can be caused by:
  • (1) water trapped during swimming or showers OR
  • (2) soap or shampoo OR
  • (3) cotton-tipped swabs.
  • Can also be caused by a piece of earwax in the ear canal.
  • Rubbing the ear is common in younger children (under age 2 or 3). Simple ear pulling without other symptoms such as fever or crying is harmless. These children rarely have an ear infection.
CARE ADVICE FOR EAR RUBBING OR ITCHY EAR CANAL

  1. What You Should Know:
    • Most of these children have discovered their ears and are playing with them.
    • Some have an itchy ear canal.
    • Ear pulling can start when your child has a cold. It can be caused by fluid in the middle ear. Less often, it's caused by an ear infection. If this is the case, your child will develop other symptoms. Look for fever or increased crying.
    • Ear pulling without other symptoms is not a sign of an ear infection.
    • Here is some care advice that should help.
  2. Habit:
    • If touching the ear is a new habit, ignore it. This helps prevent your child from doing it for attention.
  3. White Vinegar Eardrops:
    • For an itchy ear canal, use half-strength white vinegar. Make this by mixing the vinegar with equal parts warm water.
    • Place 2 drops in each ear canal once daily.
    • Do this for three days.
    • Reason: Restores the normal acid pH.
    • Caution: Do not use eardrops if your child has ear drainage or ear tubes. Also, do not use if your child has a hole in eardrum.
  4. Keep Soap Out of the Ears:
    • Keep soap and shampoo out of the ear canal.
    • Reason: Makes the ears itchy.
  5. Do Not Use Cotton Swabs:
    • Cotton swabs can push earwax back and cause a plug.
    • In older children, cotton swabs may remove all the earwax. This leads to itching and irritation.
    • Earwax protects the lining of the ear canal.
  6. What to Expect:
    • With this treatment, most itching is gone in 2 or 3 days.
  7. Call Your Doctor If:
    • Rubbing the ear lasts more than 3 days
    • Itching of ear lasts more than 1 week
    • Your child becomes worse

And remember, contact your doctor if your child develops any of the "Call Your Doctor" symptoms.
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Disclaimer: This information is not intended be a substitute for professional medical advice. It is provided for educational purposes only. You assume full responsibility for how you choose to use this information.


Author and Senior Reviewer: Barton D. Schmitt, M.D.

Last Reviewed: 9/1/2012

Last Revised: 1/13/2013

Content Set: Child Symptom Checker

Copyright 1994-2012 Barton D. Schmitt, M.D.