Ear pain is quite a common problem in children, which can be caused by several factors like ear infections, earwax impaction, tooth caries, and sinus infections. This article dwells on the various causes, symptoms, as well as the treatment of ear pain in children.
The ear is a vital organ that is not only responsible for detecting sound waves, but for maintaining balance as well. The human ear has three main parts – the outer ear or pinna, middle ear, and the inner ear. The outer ear or pinna is also known by the name of auricle. Any kind of pain or discomfort in or around the ear can be caused by several factors. The medical term for ear pain is ‘otalgia’ and this condition is quite common in young children.
Ear Pain Causes
One of the most common causes of ear pain in adults and children is an ear infection, mainly an infection of the middle ear. A middle ear infection is commonly known as otitis media, which is usually preceded by a cold, cough, or fever. These conditions can block the Eustachian tube by promoting the buildup of secretions.
The Eustachian tube connects the middle ear to the back of the nose, and its blockage can encourage fluid buildup and the entry of germs into the middle ear. This in turn can cause an infection and pain. Like middle ear infections, an outer ear infection or otitis externa can also produce pain and discomfort in the ear. An infection of the outer ear is generally known as swimmer’s ear, as it is quite common in people who swim a lot. So, a child can easily develop this condition, if he or she is swimming frequently or immersing the head under water while taking baths. All these activities can cause water to get trapped in the ear canal, that can eventually result in an infection. Mastoiditis or an inflammation of the mastoid can be another possible cause of ear pain.
Apart from ear infections, toothaches and pain in the throat can radiate to the ears and cause ear pain at times. Sometimes, otitis media can cause the perforation of the eardrum, in which case the child can no longer feel any pain. The perforation allows the pus that was pushing the eardrum, to drain out of the ear. Sometimes, a buildup of earwax in the ear canal can also cause an infection, which is also characterized by pain as well as a ringing sensation in the ear (tinnitus). Some other common causes of ear pain are, temporomandibular joint disorder (TMJ), a sore throat, mumps, tonsillitis, sinus infections, and ulcers in the oral cavity and the tongue.
The typical symptom that can accompany ear pain is a ringing sensation in the ear, which is known as ‘tinnitus’. The child may complain of pain when the affected ear is touched. He or she may experience pain while swallowing food as well. You can also observe him or her pulling or rubbing the ear. If ear pain is caused by an infection, then it can be accompanied by fever and irritability.
Treatment of Ear Pain
Generally, physicians recommend ear drops for treating this condition. But an infection of the ear may necessitate the use of oral or topical antibiotics. Sometimes, steroid ear drops can also be suggested for pain relief after evaluating the condition. Sometimes, home remedies can be very effective in alleviating mild ear pain, which is not associated with any kind of infections. One such simple home remedy is cold or warm compress. However, do not use an extremely cold or warm compress, and make sure that you apply it to the outer ear only.
Warm olive oil can act like a topical pain reliever. So, a warm pack of olive oil can be placed on the ear to provide some temporary relief to your child. Olive oil and mineral oil can be used for softening impacted earwax as well. This is a safe and natural method for earwax removal, provided the eardrum of your child is not perforated. Certain herbal products like garlic juice, chamomile extract, and clove oil can also be used for treating ear infections, but one should consult an expert before using any such home remedies in small children and infants.
However, if the pain is severe, or the symptoms do not improve within 48 hours, and the child experiences headaches and dizziness along with pain, then medical intervention can be required, as ear infections may cause loss of hearing at times. Even if the pain subsides suddenly, it is better to consult a physician, as it may indicate the perforation of the eardrum.
It is also important to take certain precautionary measures to prevent ear problems in the future. Never insert any object inside your child’s ears, or close his or her ears with cotton swabs while giving a bath. Do not forget to dry the ear immediately after a bath. This would minimize the possibility of water getting trapped inside the ear canal, and causing an infection and pain.
Disclaimer: This article is for informative purposes only, and should not be treated as a substitute for professional medical advice.