Earaches and ear problems are common, especially in young children. Although this condition can be very painful, it is usually benign and not a cause for concern. Sometimes, however, earaches can be responsible for serious complications with long-term repercussions.
The physicians at Pediatrics of Sugarland are here to help your child with this painful condition, but to also prevent any serious damage. Contact us today to book your appointment!
What is an earache?
An earache is defined as a painful sensation in the ear. An earache can affect one or both ears. Sometimes, an earache may be accompanied by inflammatory signs such as ear swelling, redness, or discharge, which are signs of an outer ear infection, the most common cause of earaches.
What are the different parts of the ear?
Being aware of the ear anatomy may help parents understand their children’s earache better The ear is made of 3 compartments or parts:
– The external ear: the part of the ear that we can see. It’s made of the auricle and the outer ear canal, at the end of which is located the tympanic membrane.
– The middle ear: located on the other side of the tympanic membrane. It is shaped like a square and contains three small bones that will transmit sound vibrations to the inner ear.
– The inner ear: will help transmit the sound vibrations to the brain. It is also responsible for balance and proprioception.
What are the common causes of an earache?
The most common causes of an earache include:
– External ear infections: They usually happen after bathing or going to the pool, as a consequence of earwax buildup, or after getting a small object stuck in the outer ear canal.
– Middle ear infection: in younger children, usually the result of a Eustachian tube dysfunction caused by an upper respiratory tract infection, or adenoid vegetations.
Sometimes, other types of pain can be mistaken for earaches. Such is the case for toothaches, or temporo-mandibular joint disorders.
What are the signs of an earache?
Older children are usually able to express themselves and will let their discomfort and the exact location of their pain known. In younger children, however, an earache may go unnoticed or will simply present as a child crying for no reason.
Sometimes, inflammatory signs to the external ear will help guide the diagnosis, or in the case of a middle ear infection, the examination of the tympanic membrane with an otoscope will help. A rule of thumb is to always examine the middle ear in a child who’s inexplicably in pain or who has a fever.
The context can also be telling, especially if the child or their parent reports a recent trip to the pool, or getting something stuck in the child’s ear.
What are the consequences of an untreated earache?
The pain from an earache can be quite severe, hence the importance of urgent medical care. If untreated, the pain can cause the child to become irritable, agitated, and to be unable to eat or sleep.
An earache caused by a middle ear infection or an object stuck in the ear canal can potentially perforate the tympanic membrane, causing hearing loss which if untreated, can be permanent. This hearing loss, especially in younger children who haven’t begun to talk yet, can impair their speech and language development.
Another potential complication of an infection-related earache is, if untreated, the infection can spread to the brain, thus causing life-threatening complications.
What’s the importance of medical care if my child has an earache?
An earache can be an extremely painful and uncomfortable condition, hence the importance of the right medical treatment to not only alleviate the pain but also treat the underlying cause of the earache.
Furthermore, some causes of earaches may have serious and long-term complications like hearing loss, speech development delay, and even brain infection.
For all these reasons and more, consulting a doctor is imperative if your child suffers from an earache.