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Understanding Outer Ear Problems

Children often get an earache. Specific treatment may or may not be needed. It's best to check with your healthcare provider. Ear pain can be caused by a problem in the outer or middle ear. Or it can be someplace else, such as an infected throat. Usually, outer ear problems don't cause fever. But this isn't always the case. Use the checklist below to help you figure out if the problem is with the outer ear.

What are outer ear problems?

Outer ear problems occur in the area between the external part of the ear (auricle) and the eardrum. The eardrum is the thin sheet of tissue that passes sound waves between the outer and middle ear. These problems are often because of excess earwax buildup or infection.

Cross section of ear showing outer, inner, and middle ear.
Normal ear

When to call your child's healthcare provider

Call your child's healthcare provider if you're unsure or if your child is young. It’s likely an outer ear problem if you can say yes to any of the following:

  • My child’s outer ear aches or feels blocked.

  • The pain gets worse when I wiggle, pull, or move my child’s ear.

  • My child's outer ear is red or swollen.

  • My child went swimming recently.

  • My child has drainage (fluid or pus) in an ear.

  • My child's ear is itching.

  • My child has trouble hearing.

Online Medical Reviewer: Ashutosh Kacker MD
Online Medical Reviewer: Marianne Fraser MSN RN
Online Medical Reviewer: Tara Novick BSN MSN
Date Last Reviewed: 7/1/2022
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