Urgent or Emergency Care?
If you believe your child needs immediate attention and you have concerns for a life-threatening emergency, call 911. Not sure what counts as urgent and what's an emergency when your child is sick or injured? When it can't wait, know where to take your kids.
Help Me Decide
- Injuries to the outer ear, ear canal or eardrum
Types of Ear Injuries
- Cut or Scratch. Most cuts of the outer ear do not need sutures.
- Bruise. Most bruises of the outer ear just leave a purple mark. They heal on their own.
- Blood Clot (Serious). Most of the outer ear is made of cartilage. A large blood clot (hematoma) can cut off the blood supply to the cartilage. It needs to be drained. If not, the ear may become deformed (boxer's ear).
- Ear Canal Bleeding. Most are due to a scratch of ear canal. This can be caused by cotton swab, fingernail, or ear exam. Most stop bleeding on their own. Persistent bleeding needs to be seen.
- Cotton Swab Injuries: Cotton swabs cause more than 10,000 ear injuries each year in the US. More than 2,000 are punctured eardrums. Never let young children put cotton swabs in their ears.
- Punctured Eardrum. Most are due to long-pointed objects put in the ear canal. Examples are cotton swabs, pencils, sticks, straws, or wires.
- Loss of Hearing (Serious). Caused by blunt trauma, such as a slap to the ear. Also, caused by explosions.
Go to ER Now
- Bleeding that won't stop after 10 minutes of direct pressure
- Large deep cut that will need many stitches
Call Doctor or Seek Care Now
- Skin is split open or gaping and may need stitches
- Upper part of the ear is very swollen
- Pointed object was put into the ear canal (such as a pencil, stick, or wire)
- Clear fluid is draining from the ear canal
- Skin is cut and No past tetanus shots. Note: tetanus is the "T" in DTaP, TdaP, or Td vaccines.
- Severe pain and not better 2 hours after taking pain medicine
- Age less than 1 year old
- Outer ear injury looks infected (spreading redness)
- You think your child has a serious injury
- You think your child needs to be seen, and the problem is urgent
Contact Doctor Within 24 Hours
- Few drops of blood in the ear canal. Caused by a minor injury, cotton swab (Q-tip) or ear exam.
- Injury causes an earache or crying lasts more than 30 minutes
- Hearing is less on injured side
- Dirty cut or hard to clean and no tetanus shot in more than 5 years
- Clean cut and no tetanus shot in more than 10 years
- You think your child needs to be seen, but the problem is not urgent
Contact Doctor During Office Hours
- You have other questions or concerns
Self Care at Home
- Minor ear injury
- Pierced ear with minor injury
Care Advice for Minor Ear Injuries
- Bleeding - How to Stop:
- For any bleeding, put direct pressure on the wound.
- Use a gauze pad or clean cloth.
- Press for 10 minutes or until the bleeding has stopped.
- Clean the Wound:
- Wash the wound with soap and water for 5 minutes.
- Antibiotic Ointment:
- For cuts and scrapes, use an antibiotic ointment (such as Polysporin). No prescription is needed.
- Put it on the cut 3 times a day.
- Do this for 3 days.
- Cover large scrapes with a bandage (such as Band-Aid). Change daily.
- Pain Medicine:
- To help with the pain, give an acetaminophen product (such as Tylenol).
- Another choice is an ibuprofen product (such as Advil).
- Use as needed.
- What to Expect:
- Minor ear wounds heal quickly.
- Most often, cuts and scrapes heal in 2 or 3 days.
- Preventing Ear Injuries:
- Careful adult supervision of young children.
- Never let young children put cotton swabs in their ears.
- Call Your Doctor If:
- Pain gets severe
- You think your child needs to be seen
- Your child becomes worse
Copyright 2000-2022. Schmitt Pediatric Guidelines LLC.
Disclaimer: this health information is for educational purposes only. You, the reader, assume full responsibility for how you choose to use it.
Get to know our pediatric experts.
Certified Pediatric Nurse Practitioner
Patient ratings and reviews are not available