Ear ache

Ear ache

How common is ear ache?

Ear ache is extremely common in children. The most frequent cause of ear ache is otitis media (infection of the middle ear — ie. the space behind the eardrum) or otitis externa (inflammation of the outer ear canal). Ear ache is usually a complication of a cold and is not contagious.

What are the symptoms of ear ache?

How is ear ache diagnosed?

Your doctor will examine your child's outer ear, ear canal and ear drum with an otoscope (a device for examining the eardrum and the passage leading to it from the ear). Your doctor may also examine your child's mouth, throat and teeth and, in some cases, an x-ray may be ordered.

How is ear ache treated?

Analgesics (painkillers) may be given to relieve the pain.


Antibiotics may be prescribed if an infection is the underlying cause of the ear ache. Try not to forget any of the doses. If your child goes to school or a babysitter, arrange for someone to give the afternoon dose. If the medicine is a liquid, store the antibiotic in the refrigerator and use a measuring spoon to be sure that you give the right amount. Give the medicine until the bottle is empty or all the pills are gone.

Don't save the antibiotic for the next illness because it loses its strength. Even though your child will feel better in a few days, it is important to give the antibiotic until it is completely gone. Finishing the medicine will keep the ear infection from flaring up again.


Your child can go outside and does not need to cover their ears. Swimming is allowed if there is no tear in the eardrum or drainage from the ear. Your child can return to school when they are feeling better and the fever is gone.


Your doctor will schedule a return appointment and check the eardrum to be certain that the infection is cleared up and further treatment isn't necessary. Your doctor may also test your child's hearing. Follow-up visits are important, particularly if the eardrum is perforated.

How can ear ache be prevented?

You can help to prevent the infections that may lead to ear ache by:

  • Teaching your children to cover their mouths with a disposable tissue when they cough and blow their noses with disposable tissues.
  • Only use a tissue once and then immediately throw it away.
  • Do not allow your children to share toys that they put in their mouths. If your child has discarded a toy that can be put in the mouth, place it out of reach of the other children. Wash and disinfect these toys before allowing your children to play with them again.
  • Make sure your family wash their hands regularly.

What is the outlook?

If the ear ache is treated correctly, there should be no permanent damage to the ear or to the hearing.

Back to top of page