Earache in Toddlers: Is It a Cold or an Ear Infection?

In Musings by Nicole Greene0 Comments


Life can be lousy when you’re little one with an ear infection. More than three out of four children have had at least one ear infection before the age of three, and many more suffer from ear pain caused from the common cold, according to When toddlers suffer from earache, it can be difficult to determine the cause, as most young children are not able to express their symptoms clearly. It’s important to distinguish between a cold or ear infection to ensure that your toddler receives the proper medical care. Along with a diagnosis from your child’s pediatrician, use these tips to determine the cause of your child’s ear pain.

Common Cold

Toddlers with the common cold may show a wide range of symptoms, including sniffles, sneezing, a persistent cough, or a sore throat. Young children can suffer from as many as six to eight colds per year, according to the American Lung Association. The common cold is usually caused by rhinoviruses when children breathe in invisible cold droplets in the air. The first symptoms of the common cold are often a tickle in the throat, a stuffy or runny nose, and sneezing.

Some children may also have a cough, sore throat, headache, muscle aches, fatigue, mild fever, and loss of appetite. Toddlers with earaches caused by the common cold may have difficulty sleeping and difficulty hearing as fluid builds up in the middle ear, preventing the eardrum from working efficiently. Some children experience brown, yellow, white, or bloody drainage from the ear, indicating that the eardrum may have ruptured.

Ear Infections

Ear infections, or otitis media, are the most frequently diagnosed illnesses among children in America, according to the National Association of School Psychologists. Earache is usually the first symptom that toddlers develop. If your toddler is not able to communicate this pain out loud, he or she may cry, tug at the ear, or point to the ear to tell you that it hurts. Ear infections can develop after a cold or sinus infection, and is usually accompanied by a fever.

Infections of the middle ear are usually caused by a virus or bacteria, causing fluid to build up in the area behind the eardrum. Ear infections are often times accompanied by vomiting or diarrhea, an unpleasant odor emanating from the ear, trouble hearing quiet sounds, reduced appetite, and difficulty sleeping. In some instances, white or yellow fluid may drain from the ear. The ear drum helps with equilibrium; therefore, some kids may have problems with balance when they have an ear infection.

Get Treatment

Whether it’s caused by the common cold, an infection, or both, it’s critical to have your child’s earache diagnosed by a qualified pediatrician or physician. To diagnose your toddler’s ear pain, the pediatrician will examine the ear using an instrument referred to as an otoscope. Healthy eardrums are a pinkish gray color. If there is an infection in the middle ear, the eardrum may appear swollen, inflamed, and red in color. A pneumatic otoscope may also be used to check the pressure in the middle ear caused by fluid buildup.

There is no cure for the common cold and the virus must run its course. Your child’s pediatrician can provide pain medication, such as acetaminophen, to relief discomfort. Ear infections must be treated with a prescribed antibiotic to kill any bacteria that is causing the infection. Antibiotics are not; however, needed to treat an earache that is caused by a virus or a cold. If fluid stays in the ear for more than three months, or if your child suffers from chronic ear infections, your pediatrician may recommend myringotomy, or ear tubes.

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