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A Pharmacists Guide to Ear Infections in Children By Sheena Mitchell, Pharmacist and mum of three school going children

Ear infections can be very painful and what is worse, it can be hard to tell when your very young child is in the early stages of one unless they can tell you. A very sore ear can be caused by other conditions too, so it is important to visit your doctor if your child’s symptoms do not clear up within two to three days.

An ear infection is an inflammation of the middle section of the ear which can be caused by a viral or bacterial infection. It will cause fluid to build up behind the ear drum which is what causes the pain. Ear infections often occur after a sore throat, cold or cough as these ailments give way to a perfect breeding ground for bacteria, making it easy for viral infections to spread to the middle ear.

Sore throats, colds, and upper respiratory infections cause inflammation of the passageways between the ear and the throat. Children are more susceptible to ear infections as these passageways are smaller in children, and they have a less developed immune system.

READ NEXT: A Pharmacist's Guide to Managing a Fever

Signs & Symptoms

The symptoms and signs of an ear infection often occur quickly and then resolve quickly. They include:
  • Earache
  • High temperature
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Low energy
  • Slight hearing loss
  • Diminished balance – falling or clumsiness
  • Children may pull at their ear
  • Irritable
  • Difficulty sleeping


Ear infections often clear up by themselves and do not require treatment other than to relieve the symptoms. You can use Calpol and Nurofen for pain relief or manage a fever, while a cold compress held over the ear may also provide some relief of pain.

If your child is inconsolable, is having hearing issues, balance issues, has a persistent fever or there is swelling around the ear, then you should visit your doctor. After examining your child, they may advise a course of antibiotics if a bacterial infection is present. It is important to fully finish any course of prescribed antibiotics by following your pharmacist’s instructions. This will help to prevent the infection from coming back after a short period and in a more aggressive manner.

Sometimes the doctor may just recommend observation and treatment of the earache as it could be a viral infection. It is important to get a persistent earache investigated so that the true cause of the pain can be identified and treated. There are many potential causes of earache which don’t include infection and so would not benefit from an antibiotic.

Children may develop an earache as a result of an allergy which causes swelling of the passageways connecting the ear, nose, and throat. Another possibility is that there is an obstruction in the ear from a foreign object or even just wax. Eczema can also occur in the ear and can cause pain, as can some types of dental pain.

READ NEXT: A Pharmacists Guide to Managing Coughs

Practical Tips

The symptoms and signs of an ear infection often occur quickly and then resolve quickly. They include:
  • Wash your own and your child’s hands frequently to reduce the chances of infection spreading.
  • Avoid children playing together when they are sick.
  • Use a humidifier at night to keep congestion at bay and help prevent secondary infections from colds causing earaches.
  • If your child has nasal congestion, try adding some Snuffle Babe vapour oil to your humidifier as this will help to loosen nasal secretions and in turn releases pressure from behind the ear.
  • Recurrent earaches can be an indicator of fluid retention and should always be highlighted to your doctor to ensure long-term hearing difficulties are prevented.

Think Pharmacist First

Your local pharmacist is a free accessible healthcare professional in your community, who can help to guide you through various at-home treatments and advise you when it is time to visit your GP.

You can find more information and tips on how to identify and treat common illnesses and conditions that affect the family on the pharmacy advice website. Or tune into the Wonderbaba podcast for more expert advice and insights into how other families are facing their healthcare challenges head on. Find a WonderBaba Podcast on iTunes, Spotify or wherever you stream your podcasts.

Sheena Mitchell is a mum of three children who provides expert pharmacist advice through her community pharmacy - totalhealth in Milltown in Dublin and online platform