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Learning about your child’s ears: What you need to know

Learning About Your Child's Ears

What you need to know

diagram of ear

The ears, together with the brain, make it possible to hear. In children, hearing speech is essential for developing spoken language.

The ears are also important for balance.

Parts of the ear

The ear is made up of the external ear canal, middle ear, and inner ear. The middle ear is separated from the ear canal by the eardrum. The middle ear contains the malleus, incus, and stapes bones, which are also known as the hammer, anvil, and stirrup. The inner ear contains the cochlea, which is the main sensory organ of hearing. The eustachian tube runs from the middle ear to the back part of the nose.

How the ear works

  • Sound waves enter the ear through the ear canal and strike the eardrum.
  • The eardrum vibrates, and the vibrations move to the bones of the middle ear.
  • In response, the bones of the middle ear vibrate, magnifying the sound and sending it to the inner ear.
  • Sound vibrations cause the fluid in the inner ear to move, which bends tiny hair cells (cilia) in the cochlea.
  • The movement of the hair cells creates nerve impulses, which travel along the cochlear nerve to the brain and are interpreted as sound.

Problems that can happen with your child’s ears

Problems with your child’s ears may include:

  • Infection of the middle ear (otitis media).
  • Swelling or infection of the ear canal.
  • Collection of fluid behind the eardrum (otitis media with effusion).
  • Hearing loss.
  • Balance problems.
  • Tinnitus (ringing, roaring, hissing, buzzing, or tinkling sounds in the ears).
  • Ruptured eardrum (a tear or hole in the eardrum).
  • Earwax blockage (impaction) or a build-up of earwax.

Preventing ear problems in children

  • Do not put cotton swabs, bobby pins, or other objects in your child’s ear canal.
  • Do not use home remedies for common ear conditions. Talk to your child’s doctor or call Health Link at 811 if you have questions about your child’s ear conditions.
  • Do not use ear candling to remove wax.
  • Protect your child’s ears from loud sounds and keep the volume down.
    • Limit the sound level of ear pods or headphones. Well-fitted noise cancellation earphones and headphones make it possible to hear music, videos, and other sounds clearly at lower volumes.
    • Set a device’s maximum volume to a setting where your child can still easily hear people talking around them.
    • Avoid exposures to loud sounds.
    • Protect your child’s hearing in noisy situations. Have them wear protective earmuffs or earplugs when you cannot avoid loud noises.
  • Do not smoke or allow others to smoke around your child. Smoking and second-hand smoke make ear problems more likely.
  • Call your doctor or Health Link at 811 if your child has ear pain, a feeling of fullness in their ear, discharge or bleeding from the ear, or hearing loss. Contact your doctor right away if you notice a sudden change in your child’s hearing.

To see this information online and learn more, visit


For 24/7 nurse advice and general health information call Health Link at 811.

Current as of: May 16, 2023

Author: Audiology Provincial Professional Practice, Alberta Health Services

This material is not a substitute for the advice of a qualified health professional. This material is intended for general information only and is provided on an "as is", "where is" basis. Although reasonable efforts were made to confirm the accuracy of the information, Alberta Health Services does not make any representation or warranty, express, implied or statutory, as to the accuracy, reliability, completeness, applicability or fitness for a particular purpose of such information. Alberta Health Services expressly disclaims all liability for the use of these materials, and for any claims, actions, demands or suits arising from such use.