Earache is most common in children rather than in adults. It is said that 1 out of 5 children will experience some earache in the first 5 years of living. It can be quite frustrating for parents or guardians to take care of a child with earache especially due to some ear infection, costing sleepless nights for both child and parents. Most earache complaints in children usually are a benign condition that can either heal by itself or just need little help from physicians.
Earache or in terms used in medicine, otalgia, especially among children usually caused by an ear infection affecting the middle part of the ear which is located at the back of the eardrum. The middle ear is connected with a tube called eustachian tube, located in the throat. In adults, the eustachian tube is huge and slightly tilted to drain fluid easily from the middle ear by gravitational pull, down to the back of the throat. However, in young children, the tube is smaller in size, shorter and horizontally placed. Viruses or bacteria can easily spread to the middle ear after a child get sick due to cold or other infection. The eustachian tube is then blocked by mucus that entraps germs, leading to increase of fluid accumulation in the ear and ultimately, the ear pain. A study shows 80 % children would have otitis media (inflammation or infection of middle ear) before the age of three.
We all know young children and babies are unable to tell adults that they are having ear pain. Adults need to pay attention to sudden changes of their child’s behaviour such as not reacting to some sounds, keep rubbing or pulling their ears, restless or crying relentlessly, fever, losing appetite and easily tripping over or seem unbalanced when walking or crawling. There are things you can do to help treat the earache yourself:
- Use a warm cloth by soaking it in warm water or use a heat pack on the ear.
- Use cold flannel or ice packs to the ear
- Use painkiller such as paracetamol
- Never put anything inside the ear or use Q-tips
- Avoid any attempt to remove the earwax or object in the ear by yourself
- Avoid water from getting inside the ear
Although most earache relieved on their own within 7 days and generally does not require treatment, you should go see a doctor soon and bring your child if:
- the child is below than 2 years old and both ears is in pain
- persisting pain or worsening pain of the ear
- unresolved high temperature fever or shivers
- discharge from the ear such as blood or yellowish fluid
- swelling around the ear
- sudden hearing loss or hearing disturbances
- lodged object or insects inside the ear
- earwax build-up or blockage
Apart from infection of middle ear causing earaches, there are plethora causes of earaches in children such as children teething or dental abscess with toothache symptoms, hearing problems due to glue ear, impacted earwax, object stuck in the ear or perforated eardrum, and difficulty to swallow causes by pain from the sore throat or tonsillitis.
Most complaints of earaches in children in general are pretty straightforward, meaning a doctor can easily identify causes of the pain and manage it with minimal medicine or procedure. The best way you can help prevent your child from diseases causing ear pain is to keep your child a distance away from people with cold or other illnesses, making sure no smoker around them and practising good hand and oral hygiene.