Earache in children

Otitis media is the most common cause of earache and is an infection of the middle ear. Also known as ‘glue ear,’ this condition is most common in young children between the ages of 3 months and 3 years.

The middle ear is connected to the back of the nose by the Eustachian tube. This tube has 2 roles: to help maintain an equal air pressure inside and outside the middle air, allowing the eardrum to vibrate efficiently, as well as allowing the fluid from the mucous membranes in the middle ear to drain.

If the Eustachian tube is not working properly, or is blocked by inflammation due to a bacteria or virus in the area, fluid starts to build up and lie stagnant, giving bacteria an ideal place to grow, rather than drain out. Over time this fluid tends to become thicker, like egg white, leading to the name ‘glue ear’.

The infection may be acute or chronic, with the former being most common.

Symptoms include:

  • earache that is sharp, dull or throbbing;
  • a feeling of fullness in the ear;
  • fever;
  • vomiting, nausea and diarrhoea;
  • there may be pus-like discharge from the ear;
  • children often pull at their ears in an attempt to relieve the pressure; and
  • a severe middle ear infection can cause perforation of the eardrum resulting in hearing loss and a discharge of bloody fluid from the ear.



Middle ear infection is typically due to bacterial or viral infection and often secondary to an upper respiratory tract infection as pathogens are able to migrate up the Eustachian tube and into the middle ear.

Contributing factors that increase the risk include allergies to foods, airborne allergens and living in a household where someone smokes.


Diet and Lifestyle

Diet should be modified to support the immune function.

Increase consumption of:

  • foods high in vitamin C and bioflavenoids and the B-group of vitamins, such as whole grains and fresh fruit and vegetables: berries and citrus fruits in particular;
  • antioxidant rich foods such as brightly colored fruits and vegetables: berries, kiwi, carrots, sweet potato, beetroot and broccoli;
  • foods high in essential fatty acids, such as flax seed oil, hemp oil and LSA (linseed, sunflower and almond meal);
  • foods high in zinc, such as pumpkin seeds, Brazil nuts, pecans, legumes and buckwheat;
  • garlic, onions and ginger; and
  • increase fluid intake (water and broths).


Decrease or avoid consumption of:

  • high fat foods, dairy, meat and processed foods, refined and convenience foods;
  • sweets and sugary foods, including most fruits and fruit juices; and
  • most common allergenic foods: wheat, dairy, corn, oranges, peanuts and peanut butter.


Other considerations:

  • stop smoking in the household;
  • high altitudes and cold temperatures increase discomfort and can worsen an infection;
  • children who have frequent ear infections should be tested for food allergies; and
  • if a bottle-fed baby has an ear infection, try eliminating milk and dairy products from the child’s diet for 30-days to see if any benefits result. Try rice milk, hemp milk, almond milk or other nut milks instead.