An ear infection is common in toddlers, which causes ear pain and fever accompanied by several other symptoms. But sometimes, having a fever is not a necessary telltale sign, so you might need to pay attention to other signs. In addition, an ear infection isn’t the only possible cause of the ear pain of your toddler. Sever possible causes include swimmer’s ear, ear injury, excess ear wax, piercing infection, change in air pressure, or TMJ. Attention to the symptoms can let you know what’s causing this ear pain and how to treat it.
As an observant parent, it’s easier to tell whatever is troubling your little one.
Your toddler is likely very fussy, pull at their ear, or outright try to tell you that they’re in pain.
Your first instinct is to doubt whether they’re suffering from an ear infection as a parent.
An ear infection is a common bacterial infection amongst toddlers.
According to the National Institutes of Health, five out of six children will experience a frequent ear infection before their third birthday.
But there’s a possibility of other causes behind this ear pain of your toddler.
Possibility of ear infection
Often the common issue toddler could suffer from with a symptom of earache is to have an ear infection.
It happens when there’s an inflammation in the middle area, the part of the ear that connects the back of the nose and throat, known as the Eustachian tube. Also known as a middle ear infection.
This infection could also stem from getting a cold or other respiratory infections such as a sore throat.
Studies show that toddlers exposed to secondhand smoke are up to three times more likely to develop an ear infection.
The most common infection is otitis media, affecting the eustachian tube, and bacteria or viruses are usually the cause.
Earaches can become more and more painful if not recognized and treated within time, but there’re several other symptoms of ear infection such as:
- Being fussy or irritable
- Pulling at the ear because of pain
- Loss of appetite
- Trouble in sleeping
- Fluid draining from the ear
While fever is a symptom, it’s not always the case. Your toddler could be suffering from an earache but may not necessarily have a fever.
They may also show signs of losing balance as the infection grows more in power without being treated, which means the infection is getting to a severe stage.
The urge to treat the infection using antibiotics can be vital in parents, but without consulting a doctor can cause the condition to become resistant to those antibiotics in the future.
Using pain medicine is helpful for the toddler’s severe pain.
Not every toddler might need antibiotics, and the best thing to do is consult your health care provider for the best course of action for your child.
The treatment would differ depending on the toddler’s age, degree of pain, and symptoms.
Other reasons for earache
If you notice no fever, but your toddler is suffering from an earache, then there could be other reasons behind their suffering.
An infection isn’t the only issue your toddler could be suffering from. Here are some other possible reasons behind an earache:
1. Swimmer’s ear
Does your toddler enjoy their bath? Do you send them to swimming classes?
Then they could be suffering from something known as swimmer’s ear. It’s an inflammation of the external ear canal caused by fungi or bacteria.
If your toddler’s ear isn’t cleaned correctly or wiped clean after a bath or swimming classes, they might develop a swimmer’s ear.
Even remaining in wet or humid conditions can cause a similar issue.
While other problems include:
- Rough cleaning of the ear canal
- Injury to the ear canal
- Dry skin in the ear canal
- Foreign object in the ear canal
- Too much earwax
- Skin conditions such as eczema and other kinds of dermatitis
The symptoms apart from earache include:
- Redness of the outer ear
- Itching in the ear
- Drainage from the ear
- Swollen glands in the neck
- Swollen ear canal
- Muffled hearing or hearing loss
- Full or plugged-up feeling in the ear
Though the swimmer’s ear should clear up in about 7-10 days, you can treat it using antibiotic ear drops, corticosteroid drops, pain medicine, and don’t forget to keep the ear dry.
2. Ear injury
Sometimes even cleaning with the cotton swab can damage your toddler’s ear.
It’s not intentional, but they’re still so sensitive that anything from being near loud music, cuts, scrapes, inserting a pencil, and any minor injury to the outer ear or the ear canal can lead to an injury that can cause earache.
Any injury or even sudden air pressure change like a flight can cause earache to your toddler’s ears.
Other symptoms apart from earache include:
- Dizziness and balance problems
- Hearing loss
- Pus or bleeding from the ear
- Tinnitus (buzzing or ringing in the ear)
The treatment plan would depend on the nature of the injury, which part was hurt, and what caused the damage.
3. Ear wax
Ear wax is an essential component of our ears and is needed to help keep the ear canal from drying up completely, which can cause many issues with the absence of ear wax.
But too much ear wax build-up can be problematic too.
Sometimes, ear wax build-up can block the ear canal and cause discomfort like an earache. This can lead to symptoms like a feeling of dizziness, mild deafness, or ringing in the ear.
In such a case, using an earbud will only push the earwax further in the ear.
Using drops from the pharmacy can soften the earwax and help get the excess out. You should consult your pediatrician on how to go about it.
4. Pierced ear infection
This is a pretty evident form of the cause behind ear pain in your toddler.
If you recently got their ears pierced, don’t forget to keep a close look at the piercing site. It may look fine from a distance, but your toddler could be suffering from an infection.
As this infection progresses, you will see symptoms like swelling, redness, and yellow discharge from the piercing site.
It’s necessary to take proper care of the piercing, or it can develop into a nasty infection, and you might have to get the piercing removed for it to get better.
Clean the piercing with lukewarm water and antibacterial soap.
Don’t use rubbing alcohol or hydrogen peroxide.
5. Temporomandibular joint disorder (TMJ)
TMJ connects the lower jaw to the skull, and whenever there’s an issue with it, TMJ disorders can lead to earache in your toddler.
These disorders are caused by bruxism (jaw clenching or teeth grinding), stress, or other dental problems like arthritis, muscle problems, or a history of trauma to the jaw or face.
Apart from ache in the ear and jaw or surrounding area, other symptoms include:
- Pain in the head, neck, or face
- Problems in chewing or biting
- Popping or clicking sounds when opening and closing the mouth
- Occasionally, a jaw that can lock open or lock shut
The treatment usually depends on the issue leading to the pain in the ear, and treatment follows accordingly.
There’re several other issues causing ear pain in your toddler from diseases that aren’t directly caused in the ear.
Tonsil infections and dental problems such as tooth decay in a back molar can cause pain in the jaw and reach the ear.
When should I take my child to the doctor for an earache?
Severe ear pain in a toddler can be problematic as your child might not be able to bear the pain anymore. They can become fussy and lose their appetite too.
Treating earache as soon as possible is necessary, and if the symptoms are prolonged, the case can become severe.
There are symptoms if prolonged means you need to call the doctor right away and include:
– Fever lasting for more than two days on antibiotics
– Ear pain becomes so severe that your toddler won’t stop crying
– Ear pain lasts more than three days on antibiotics
– Ear discharge isn’t better after three days on antibiotics
Can a toddler have an ear infection without fever?
Your toddler can have an infection without fever as a symptom.
While fever is a well-known symptom of ear infection, it’s not a must, and other signs could be present to let you know about it.
Fever even might come and go, and so if you see other symptoms pointing towards an infection, you should consult your healthcare provider to further start the treatment.
Will an ear infection go away on its own?
Most ear infections go away on their own, and the only medication needed is for pain relief.
When the infection becomes severe with severe negligence, you might need antibiotics to treat it.
It can be painful to watch your toddler struggle with pain in their ear as they pull at their ear to feel some relief.
While the infection is a prominent cause of ear pain accompanied by fever, it might not always be necessary for the toddler to get a fever.
Not just infection, but there could be multiple reasons behind an earache of your toddler, and the treatment would differ based on individual reasons behind the cause of pain.
Your toddler can be pretty fussy at this time so try to be patient as much as possible.
If the child is inconsolable, then immediately seek your doctor.