Earache

Earache occurs commonly in children, and is often associated with a high temperature. They are usually  caused by a viral infection – if this is the case, your child may also have a runny nose, cough or sore throat. 

  • If a number of people are unwell in the same household, this also suggests a viral infection (because viral infections are easily spread).
  • Viral infections tend to get better on their own and do not need treatment with antibiotics. Antibiotics may actually cause side effects such as rash and diarrhoea and can increase the risk of them developing antibiotic resistance.

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What should you do?

  • To make your child more comfortable, you may want to give them paracetamol (calpol) and/or ibuprofen. This not only helps with fever but also reduces pain.
  • If your child is having hearing problems or fluid is coming out of their ear, they should see a GP.
  • If your child has a fever for more than 3 days and doesn’t seem to be getting any better, you should also take them to see a GP.

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How long will my child’s symptoms last?

  • The chart below shows how long earaches take to get better in children. The faces represent 10 children who have seen their GP with an earache. Green faces are those children whose earache has got better within that time period.
  • After a week, more than three-quarters of those with earache will be better whether they take antibiotics or not. Most (14 out of 15) who take antibiotics will get better just as quickly as if they hadn’t taken them.

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The diagrams above are taken from www.whenshouldiworry.com

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When should you worry?

Your child should see a doctor if they...

  • have breathing problems, such as rapid breathing, shortness of breath or laboured breathing (drawing in of muscles below the lower ribs when they breath in, or blue lips).
  • are drowsy or irritable. Children with fever are often sleepy and miserable but if they remain drowsy or irritable despite their fever coming down, they should see a doctor the same day.
  • have cold or discoloured hands and feet with a warm body.
  • are pale and floppy.
  • are showing signs of dehydration (sunken eyes, passing very little urine, becoming lethargic or difficult to wake, sunken soft spot on head in children less than a year of age).
  • are less than 3 months of age and have a fever of more than 38°C. 

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Where should you seek help?

Find urgent care services near you

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