Ear Pain - Back to School Health

Ear pain (otalgia) is a common complaint in children. It is important for the cause of ear pain to be uncovered because this symptom can be due to many conditions ranging from mild to very serious. Pain presenting in the ear can have a direct cause or be due to referred pain from another area that radiates to the ear.

A child with ear pain

Some of the more common direct causes of ear pain include:

  • Middle-ear infections
  • Swimmer’s ear (outer-ear infection)
  • Wax impaction
  • Pressure, often from flying
  • Trauma to the ear canal
  • A foreign object lodged in the ear canal

Although these are some of the most common causes of earaches and ear infections, there are countless other reasons you may be experiencing ear pain.

Indirect causes include:

  • Tonsillitis or pharyngitis
  • Dental problems
  • TMJ disorder
  • Sinus problems

Treatment for ear pain depends on the cause. If a child presents to you with ear pain, first obtain a history and then look in the ear canals and the throat. If the ear drums appear red, the ear canals appear mildly swollen, or the tonsils appear red and swollen, the parents should be instructed to bring their child to their pediatrician (especially in the setting of a fever).

If severe ear canal swelling, bleeding from the ear, purulent drainage from the ear, or a foreign body in the ear is seen, the patient should be urgently referred to an Ear, Nose, and Throat physician. Also, for any child having ear pain that is associated with tinnitus, vertigo, facial weakness, or sudden loss of hearing, an immediate consultation with an Ear, Nose, and Throat physician is warranted.

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