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Ear Pain & Infections

Ear infections are the most common reason kids visit the doctor. Help parents understand the causes of ear pain and provide them with tips on how to identify and treat ear infections.

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Causes of ear pain

Ear pain causes diagram
  • Ear infection: Viruses or bacteria get behind the eardrum and irritate the middle ear
  • Ear injury: A cotton swab or fingernail can scrape the ear canal
  • Earwax: A buildup or blockage of earwax can cause pain
  • Foreign object: Young children sometimes put small objects in their ear canal
  • Airplane ear: Air pressure, like on an airplane or while mountain driving, can make the eardrum hurt
  • Swimmer’s ear: When water gets trapped in the ear, the lining of the ear canal could get infected


Signs of an ear infection

Crying icon

More crying than usual

Fever icon

Fever or headache

trouble sleeping icon

Trouble sleeping or hearing

liquid coming out icon

Liquid coming out of one ear (or both)

Managing symptoms of ear pain or infection

Ear infection treatment diagram
  • Watch and wait: Most ear infections get better in a few days
  • Cold pack: Put a cold wet washcloth on the outer ear for 20 minutes
  • Pain medicine: Give TYLENOL® or MOTRIN® to help reduce the pain; talk to a healthcare professional if you have questions or concerns
  • Antibiotics: About 80% of children with middle ear infections get better without antibiotics. Talk to your doctor about whether antibiotics may be right for your child.

Try using an at-home otoscope

Ear otoscope image

Good to know

Antibiotic stewardship

In response to the overuse of antibiotics in pediatric care, organizations such as the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and Pediatric Infectious Diseases Society (PIDS) recommend that pediatric healthcare facilities implement Antibiotic Stewardship Programs (ASPs).

In an outpatient setting, the role of an ASP includes:

  • Establishing standardized approaches for antibiotic prescribing
  • Focusing on judicious use of antibiotics for acute respiratory tract infections
  • Discouraging antibiotic prescribing for undifferentiated upper respiratory tract infection, bronchiolitis, acute bronchitis, nonstreptococcal pharyngitis, and urinary tract infections in the absence of urinalysis
  • Encouraging judicious diagnosis of acute otitis media, acute sinusitis, and group A streptococcal pharyngitis
  • Ensuring that patients are prescribed the narrowest-spectrum antibiotics for the shortest duration of therapy that will optimize outcomes

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