Symptom guide: Earache
Decipher the possible causes of your baby’s earache and know what to do

Download the printable PDF file here.

The symptoms

What it could be

What to do

Pulling at the ear with fever, excessive fussiness and crying. Also lack of appetite, diarrhoea, vomiting and yellow or white fluid draining from the ear.

An ear infection could be the result of a virus or bacteria. Usually the Eustachian tube (connecting the middle ear to the back of the nose and throat) drains fluid build-up behind the eardrum. However a blocked tube, from a cold or allergic reaction, traps fluid behind the eardrum resulting in infection.

See your doctor for proper diagnosis, antibiotic and pain relief treatments. Prevent future ear infections by treating a cold promptly, keeping baby up-to-date with her vaccines, breastfeeding for at least 6 months and avoid exposing your baby to tobacco smoke.

Visible object lodged in the ear. Bleeding from the ear along with redness and swelling. Sometimes constant rubbing at the ear and fussiness. 

Babies and small children are fond of sticking things into their ears - be it a grain of rice, popcorn, a bean or a button.

Beware that trying to remove the lodged object yourself with a tweezer may push it in further. It’s best to see a doctor for an expert extraction.

Baby may rub at her ear, cry when chewing or when you gently tug on it. Redness and scaling on the ear with a yellow, watery discharge. Swelling of the ear and glands in the neck.

The infection of the skin lining in the outer ear canal is called swimmer’s ear. It’s caused by excess water collecting in the ear canal and weakening the protective skin layer. This in turn alters the skin pH balance, allowing bacteria and fungi to grow. Sometimes damage to the outer ear caused by an earbud increases the risk of swimmer’s ear.

Ask your doctor for eardrops to help reduce inflammation and kill off bacteria. Keep the ear dry. Water in the ear, whether from swimming (in the sea, pool or lake water) or even too much water taken in during baths and showers, can aggravate the condition.

Pulling at the ear indicating pain and discomfort along with a runny nose and cough. Very irritable, lack of appetite and mild fever.   

Babies are vulnerable to catching colds often as their immune systems are not fully developed. On average most children will have between 6 and 10 colds a year, especially if in day care or school. If congestion or coughing precedes any fever, it's more likely that your child has a cold than flu.

Keep sick adults and children away. Children who live with cigarette smokers have more colds that last longer than those children who live with non-smokers. Breastfeeding can be beneficial. Call the doctor baby if baby has a high fever, the cold lasts more than 14 days and the coughing and wheezing gets worse.

A blow to the ear or head or damage caused to ear canal by a finger nail or ear bud, causing crying, fussiness, pulling at ear and discharge from ear.

Trauma to the ear.

Seek immediate medical assistance to assess damage.

Pulling at ear, fussing and crying when travelling at high altitudes, especially flying.

Pressure changes due to altitude can cause ear discomfort. Our ears naturally adjust to changes in air pressure through the Eustachian tubes. Babies, however, owing to narrower Eustachian tubes, can have difficulty adjusting to pressure changes.

Helpful solutions for adults and older children include yawning, chewing gum and swallowing.

Try breastfeeding or feeding from a bottle or cup. Also get your baby to suck on a pacifier. The ear pain can be more severe if your baby has a stuffy nose. Ask your doctor for a nasal decongestant.

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