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"Why do children get ear aches?"


My son gets frequent ear aches. What could be causing them? Is it just because he's young?


The medical term for ear ache or ear pain is otalagia. Otalgia generally results from inflammation or swelling that is pressing on neural pain/pressure sensors within the tympanic membrane (ear drum) and the ear canal. There is is redundant afferent neural input to the ear canal meaning that inflammation in this area can be quite painful.

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The inflammation that causes otalgia can be from many different processes, and the fundamental issue is trying to determine if there is an ear infection present, or if the process is benign. It is common that when children get upper respiratory infections, that the child will develop a low-grade fever, colored mucous from the nares, malaise, fatigue, and irritability. An ear ache can also be part of the symptom picture. Whether this is from obstruction of the eustacian tube at the back of the nose which causes negative pressure in the middle ear, and a resulting effusion, or whether this is referred pain (pain that is felt in one part of the body when the pathologic process is taking place in another shoulder pain with a heart attack. In general if the ear ache is secondary to a URI, it will pass when the cold passes. However it is possible to develop a bacterial superinfection after a cold, so if your child has ear pain without any other cold symptoms, or after a cold has passed, I would recommend setting up a visit with your pediatrician. I hope this is helpful.

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