The ear is a wonderful part of the human body and serves a very important purpose.There are several potential causes for pain in a child’s ear. This month, I will cover a few of those reasons.
Inner ear infections are the first thing a parent thinks of when a child says their ear hurts, and rightfully so! They are a very common cause of ear infections, especially in younger children. This usually occurs from congestion in the nose or swelling of the adenoids that block the inner ear from draining. This build-up of fluid then attracts bacteria such as strep pneumonia or moraxella, among others. The best treatment for inner ear infections is oral antibiotics.
Swimmer’s ear is an infection of the ear outside of the eardrum in the ear canal. This is usually caused by water collected in the ear after submersion underwater. Some bacteria, like pseudomonas, prefer a moist environment. When the outer ear is infected, it can be swollen and very painful! It is best treated with antibiotic ear drops.
Ear wax is another common cause of discomfort. As wax builds up in the ear canal, it can be painful or make it difficult to hear. Sometimes this happens from wax overproduction. Pain can also come from Q-tips pushing wax farther in rather than getting it out of the ear.
Children tend to explore and, from time to time, a child will put a bead or rock in their ear! It may seem obvious, but this can cause ear pain or scrape the ear canal, causing a sore. But not all ear pain comes from foreign objects or infections! We all have tiny hairs that line our ear canals. Occasionally, these can cause a tickle, trigger a persistent cough, and bother a child’s ear.
Teething can also cause ear pain. Those little baby gums become swollen, and the pressure pushes back to the jawline where the ears are located. Babies don’t know what to do except touch the ears and cry. This can be frustrating. Parents can’t see what is going on inside that ear behind the eardrum. As a result, this symptom of teething is often mistaken for an ear infection.
Any pressure change from altitude can cause ear pain, whether it results from air travel, mountain elevation, or simply rolling down a car window. Equally, if the tonsils or adenoids are swollen, that pressure can push on the inner ear and cause pain to a child.
If your child’s ear is hurting– or if they are too little to tell you what hurts and are inconsolably fussy– the best option is to have a doctor take a look at them.
Jennifer Adair, M.D., was born and raised in Mobile. She joined Children’s Medical Group in July 2013 and currently practices at their Airport office. Jennifer and her husband, Cory, reside in Mobile with their son, Finn, and their three dogs, Barkley, Fitz, and Roo.