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Middle Ear Fluid in Children: Care Instructions

Picture of the anatomy of the ear and of the middle ear


Fluid often builds up inside the ear during a cold or allergies. Usually the fluid drains away, but sometimes a small tube in the ear, called the eustachian tube, stays blocked for months.

Symptoms of fluid buildup may include:

  • Popping, ringing, or a feeling of fullness or pressure in the ear. Children often have trouble describing this feeling. They may rub their ears trying to relieve the pressure.
  • Trouble hearing. Children who have problems hearing may seem like they are not paying attention. Or they may be grumpy or cranky.
  • Balance problems and dizziness.

In most cases, you can treat your child at home.

Follow-up care is a key part of your child's treatment and safety. Be sure to make and go to all appointments, and call your doctor or nurse advice line (811 in most provinces and territories) if your child is having problems. It's also a good idea to know your child's test results and keep a list of the medicines your child takes.

How can you care for your child at home?

  • In most children, the fluid clears up within a few months without treatment. Have your child's hearing tested if the fluid lasts longer than 3 months.
  • If your child uses a pacifier and is more then 12 months old, try to limit its use to only nighttime hours.
  • Keeping your child away from second-hand smoke in closed spaces, such as a car or house, can also help the fluid go away.

When should you call for help?

Call your doctor or nurse advice line now or seek immediate medical care if:

  • Your child has symptoms of infection, such as:
    • Increased pain, swelling, warmth, or redness.
    • Pus draining from the area.
    • A fever.

Watch closely for changes in your child's health, and be sure to contact your doctor or nurse advice line if:

  • Your child has changes in hearing.
  • Your child does not get better as expected.

Where can you learn more?

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Care instructions adapted under license by your healthcare professional. If you have questions about a medical condition or this instruction, always ask your healthcare professional. Healthwise, Incorporated disclaims any warranty or liability for your use of this information.