Pulling At or Itchy Ear

Symptom Definition

  • A child repeatedly pulls, tugs, pokes or itches the outer ear or ear canal
  • Most younger children (under age 2 or 3) who pull or poke at the ear are unable to confirm or deny the presence of an earache. In a recent study, only 5% of these children had an underlying ear infection.
  • Main Cause (infants): normal touching and pulling with discovery of ears.
  • Main Cause (older children): mild swimmer’s ear from: (1) water accumulation during swimming or showers, (2) soap or shampoo retention, or (3) canal irritation from cotton-tipped swabs.

See More Appropriate Topic

Call Your Doctor Now (night or day) If

  • Your child looks or acts very sick
  • Fever > 104°F (40°C)

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

  • You think your child needs to be seen
  • Seems to be in pain or crying without an obvious reason
  • Recent onset of awakening from sleep
  • Fever or symptoms of a cold are present
  • Drainage from the ear canal
  • Constant digging inside 1 ear canal

Call Your Doctor During Weekday Office Hours If

  • You have other questions or concerns

Parent Care at Home If

  • Normal ear touching or pulling
  • Itchy ear canal

Home Care Advice for Itchy Ear Canal

  1. Habit: If touching the ear is a new habit, ignore it (prevent doing it for attention).
  2. White Vinegar Eardrops: Use 1/2 strength white vinegar by diluting it with equal parts water. Place 2 drops in each ear canal daily for three days. (Reason: restore the normal acid pH) (Exception: ear drainage, ear tubes or hole in eardrum)
  3. Avoid Soap: Keep soap and shampoo out of the ear canal.
  4. Avoid Cotton Swabs: Cotton swabs remove the earwax that normally protects the lining of the ear canal, and this leads to itching and irritation.
  5. Expected Course: With this treatment, most itching is gone in 2 or 3 days.
  6. Call Your Doctor If
    • Pulling at the ear continues > 3 days
    • Itching continues > 1 week
    • Your child becomes worse or develops any of the “Call Your Doctor Now” symptoms