Q: I have actually seen my child frequently yanking on his ears. We’ve had the doctor inspect them a number of times, and he definitely does not have an infection. What could be the reason for his discomfort?
Why Infants Pull Their Ears
A:While your boy’s ear yanking might just be a safe quirk, it’s possible it could be a clue to another underlying medical issue. Ear-tugging as the only symptom is rarely a sign of an infection. Generally a child with an ear infection will have other signs, such as a cold, runny nose, and painful nightwaking. Your doctor has actually already omitted this possibility, but here are some other possible causes:
Fluid behind the eardrum
The Eustachian tube, located behind the eardrum, links the middle ear cavity with the throat. Its function is to adjust pressure in between the throat and middle ear. If a child’s Eustachian tube is clogged with fluid, either by an infection or an allergy, discomfort is brought on by pain from the unequal pressure on each side of the eardrum. When a grownup’s eustachian tube is clogged, we often yawn, swallow or do a lot of jaw contortions in order to pop the Eustachian tube open and ease the pain. Children, on the other hand, may tug at their ears in an effort to pop open the Eustachian tube. You can presume this as a possible cause if your child has other signs of allergic reactions, such as a runny nose, watery eyes and/or cough. In some cases when a doctor examines the eardrum of a child with allergies, they can look normal. It takes a special test (a tympanogram or examination with a pneumatic otiscope) to spot a clogged Eustachian tube. Spritzing saltwater into your child’s nostrils and clearing them out or putting your child into a steamy shower can unblock stuffy nasal passages and a plugged Eustachian tube. One trick I’ve used on my patients to pop open a clogged Eustachian tube is to have them carefully explode balloons.
While dental pain described the jaw bone and the middle ear is more typical in adults than in children, an issue tooth can still often radiate pain up into the jaw, which lies simply below the Eustachian tube. A child may yank at the ears, seeming like the issue is there, when in truth it’s his teeth. If the issue continues and is accompanied by other signs of a sore tooth, have your child’s dental professional take a look.
A harmless quirk
Preschool-age children reveal a lot of odd mannerisms, or safe practices: hair twirling, eye blinking, facial twitches and ear tugging. This is the most likely scenario for your boy. Keep a journal of what activates the yanking. Is he tired, upset or fretted? Has there been a distressing occasion at school, a major household modification (such as a move) or problems with friends? By recognizing a possible trigger, you can help your child overcome it and eliminate the routine.
If you’ve dismissed any medical cause and cannot recognize the trigger, try neglecting the ear-pulling for a while. If you focus less on the quirk, so will your child.