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"Is a child pulling on his ear a sign of an ear infection?"


My daughter does this sometimes. I want to know if that's what's bothering her. She always says she's okay when I ask.


This is a fairly common question in the pediatric ENT (ears nose throat) office. The quick answer is that it may be a sign that there is an ear infection. I realize that this is vague and non-committal, but this is one piece of the puzzle that makes up the art form of practicing pediatric medicine.

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One of the major challenges within pediatrics is that pending the age of the child, they are commonly not able to respond, or give you appropriate verbal responses. Thus the practitioner must take many non-verbal cues into account, and often times a big part of the history is obtained from the child's parents who will frequently pick up on small behavior changes (like pulling at their ears). However, something as non-specific as a child pulling at their ears doesn't by any means guarantee that they have an ear infection. It may mean that there is a cerumen impaction (wax) that is giving some mild pain, or itching, it could also mean that there is a serous effusion (clear fluid within the middle ear that is not infected). Of course it could just be a behavioral pattern that they have picked up. In general if your child is pulling at their ear, is acting fussy, having fevers, or lethargic I would definitely recommend having their pediatrician or ENT take a look at their ears. I hope this is helpful.

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