Pulling At or Itchy Ear
- 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
- If child is mainly crying and not pulling at ears, see Crying Child >3 Months Old
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
- Habit: If touching the ear is a new habit, ignore it (prevent doing it for attention).
- 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)
- Avoid Soap: Keep soap and shampoo out of the ear canal.
- Avoid Cotton Swabs: Cotton swabs remove the earwax that normally protects the lining of the ear canal, and this leads to itching and irritation.
- Expected Course: With this treatment, most itching is gone in 2 or 3 days.
- 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