- Pain or discomfort in or around the ear
- Child reports an earache
- Younger child acts like he did with previous ear infection (e.g., crying or fussy)
- Usually due to an ear infection
- Ear infections peak at age 6 months to 2 years
- The onset of ear infections peaks on day 3 of a cold
Return to School
- An earache or ear infection is not contagious. No need to miss any school or daycare.
See More Appropriate Topic (instead of this one) If
- Ear congestion but no pain, see EAR CONGESTION
- Due to airplane or mountain travel, see EAR CONGESTION
- Ear discomfort follows lots of swimming, see EAR SWIMMER'S
WHEN TO CALL YOUR DOCTOR
Call 911 Now (your child may need an ambulance) If
- Not moving or very weak
Call Your Doctor Now (night or day) If
- Your child looks or acts very sick
- Earache is severe and not improved 2 hours after taking ibuprofen
- Pink or red swelling behind the ear
- Stiff neck (can't touch chin to chest)
- Fever over 104° F (40° C) and not improved 2 hours after fever medicine
- Pointed object was inserted into the ear canal (e.g., a pencil, stick or wire)
- You think your child needs to be seen urgently
Call Your Within 24 Hours (between 9am and 4pm) If
- Earache, but none of the symptoms described above (Reason: possible ear infection)
- Pus or cloudy discharge from ear canal
HOME CARE ADVICE FOR SUSPECTED EAR INFECTION (until you talk with your doctor)
- Your child may have an ear infection, but it doesn't sound serious. The only way to be sure is to examine the eardrum.
- Diagnosis and treatment can safely wait until morning if the earache begins after 5 pm.
- Ear pain can be controlled with pain medicine and eardrops.
Pain Medicine: Give acetaminophen (e.g., Tylenol) or ibuprofen for pain relief or for fever above 102° F (39° C).
Local Cold: Apply a cold pack or a cold wet wash cloth to the outer ear for 20 minutes to reduce pain while the pain medicine takes effect. (Note: Some children prefer local heat for 20 minutes.)
Avoid Earplugs: If pus or cloudy fluid is draining from the ear canal, the eardrum has ruptured from an ear infection. Wipe the pus away as it appears. Avoid plugging with cotton (Reason: Retained pus causes irritation or infection of the ear canal).
Eardrops: 3 drops of plain prescription eardrops or olive oil drops will usually relieve pain not helped by pain medicine. If your child has ear tubes or a hole in the eardrum, don't use them.
Contagiousness: Ear infections are not contagious.
Call Your Doctor If:
- Your child develops severe pain
- Your child becomes worse
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: 9/15/2011
Last Revised: 8/1/2011
Content Set: Pediatric HouseCalls Symptom Checker
Copyright 1994-2012 Barton D. Schmitt, M.D.