Earaches and Earwax
Types of earaches in children
There are 3 things that typically account for earache in children.
1. “Swimmer’s Ear” or Outer Ear Infection
- A skin infection of the ear canal
- Usually seen in the summer when water gets into the outer ear canal and causes irritation and inflammation of the canal.
- The ear itself is usually painful to touch. This is usually treated with ear drops prescribed by the doctor.
- Many parents have learned that if their child is prone to “swimmer’s ear” they can drain the water out of the ear after swimming and put a few drops of 1/2 vinegar and 1/2 alcohol in the ear canal.
- Well fitting ear plugs may help to keep the ear dry.
2. Middle Ear Infection
- Can be viral or bacterial.
- Is usually associated with a cold, runny nose and congestion.
- There does not have to be a fever.
- The only way to know if antibiotics are needed is for a medical provider to look in the ears.
- We do not call in antibiotics for earache. Antibiotics given when there is not a bacterial infection increase antibiotic resistance and can cause unwanted side effects.
- Sometimes after treating with an antibiotic we will ask that your child return for re-evaluation. This is not always necessary however. Ask your provider if there is any value in having the ears rechecked after antibiotics are done.
- While an ear infection or fluid is present the child’s hearing is slightly dulled in that ear; hearing returns to normal, however, when the fluid is gone.
- The evaluation and treatment of ear infections are designed to avoid hearing loss (and possible speech problems in younger children), which can develop if the infection and/or fluid continues for several months.
- A child is generally referred for ear tube evaluation if she has had 6 infections in 6 months or never clears fluid from behind the ear drum for 3 straight months.
- Most parents worry about excessive earwax.
- Earwax is normal and is produced in the outer canal to trap dirt and small particles.
- Earwax provides insulation for sound waves to bounce back to the ear drum more effectively
- Earwax raises the pH of the outer ear canal, which makes it harder for bacteria to grow and cause swimmer’s ear.
- Earwax gradually works its way out of the canal and can easily be wiped away with a washcloth.
- Probing inside the canal with a Q-tip is unnecessary and should be avoided because it usually results in pushing the wax farther in, causing a large block of impacted wax.
- When evaluating the child for an ear infection, your doctor or nurse practitioner may need to remove some of the wax to get a good view of the eardrum. We may use a curette to scoop out the wax or wash it out with warm peroxide or water.
- At home you may try over-the-counter earwax dissolving solutions, such as Debrox or Murine, to break down and thin out the wax.