Children And Ear Abscesses: What Parents Need To Know

Posted on: 7 July 2016

Ear infections are relatively common in children, and, in fact, five out of six children have an ear infection before their third birthday. A serious ear infection can lead to an ear abscess, which, left untreated, could prove fatal. As such, it's important to know the signs of an ear abscess and the steps you should take if you think your child has one. Find out what you need to know here.

Why children are susceptible to ear infections

Children are susceptible to colds and allergies that affect the nasal passages. When this happens, the Eustachian tube in the ear can fill up with mucus, which allows fluid to build up in the middle ear. Bacteria can breed in this fluid, leading to an increased risk of ear infections.

Ear infections often affect children because the Eustachian tubes in their ears are shorter and more horizontal than an adult's, which makes it easier for bacteria to get into the middle ear. The narrower tubes are also more prone to blockages than an adult's.

About ear abscesses

Ear abscesses develop due to a serious bacterial infection in the middle ear passage. When the infection sets in, bacteria infiltrate the porous part of the child's skull called the mastoid process. Colds, pneumonia and other infections can all cause ear abscesses. Although the abscess is part of the body's attempt to fight off the infection, left untreated, your child could face life-threatening consequences because an ear infection may eventually spread to the blood or the brain.

Symptoms to look for

Children with a serious ear infection or abscess will generally show serious symptoms. These include:

  • A high temperature and fever.
  • Pus or bloody discharge from the ear.
  • Tenderness and swelling around the ear.
  • Headache and hearing loss.

Of course, an ear abscess is normally very painful, so a child will often complain and bring the problem to your attention. Don't overlook minor symptoms. Early diagnosis of a problem can deal with an infection before an abscess forms.


It is almost impossible to stop an ear abscess forming once it has started. As such, if a doctor diagnoses an abscess, treatment will normally involve pain relief and steps to control the swelling and infection. Your child will need strong antibiotics, which a doctor may need to administer intravenously. Therefore, hospitalisation is sometimes necessary.

A doctor will also often lance the eardrum. This will relieve painful pressure and stop the infection spreading. Lancing the eardrum is not dangerous and will not cause permanent hearing damage. A decision not to lance the eardrum could ultimately cause perforation, which may prolong pain and cause damage.

An ear abscess is a painful condition that could lead to life-threatening consequences. Seek immediate medical attention from your family doctor if you think your son or daughter has an ear infection.