Symptom Definition

  • Pain or discomfort in or around the ear
  • Child reports an earache
  • Younger child acts like he did with previous ear infection (e.g. crying or fussy)

See More Appropriate Topic

Call Your Doctor Now (night or day) If

  • Your child looks or acts very sick
  • Earache is severe
  • Pink or red swelling behind the ear
  • Fever > 104°F (40°C)
  • Pointed object was inserted into the ear canal (e.g., a pencil, stick or wire)

Call Your Doctor Within 24 Hours (between 9 and 4) If

  • Earache, but none of the symptoms described above (probably ear infection).

Home Care Advice for Suspected Ear Infection (until your child can be seen)

  1. Reassurance: Your child may have an ear infection, but it doesn’t sound serious. Diagnosis and treatment can safely wait until morning if the earache begins after 5 pm.
  2. Pain Medicine: Give acetaminophen or ibuprofen for pain relief or for fever > 102°F (39°C).
  3. Local Cold: Apply a cold pack or a cold wet wash cloth to the outer ear for 20 minutes to reduce pain while the pain medicine takes effect. (Note: Some children prefer local heat for 20 minutes)
  4. Avoid Earplugs: If pus or cloudy fluid is draining from the ear canal, the eardrum has ruptured from an ear infection. Wipe the pus away as it appears. Avoid plugging with cotton. (Reason: retained pus causes irritation or infection of the ear canal.)
  5. Eardrops: Prescription eardrops or olive oil drops aren’t safe if your child has ear tubes or a hole in the eardrum. Therefore don’t use eardrops unless your doctor recommends them.
  6. Contagiousness: Ear infections are not contagious.
  7. Call Your Doctor If
    • Your child becomes worse or develops any of the “Call Your Doctor Now” symptoms
    • Your child develops severe pain
    • You have other questions or concerns