Painful Rash on Outer Ear in Children

Happy boy after health exam at doctor's office
A young child is at the doctor's office. (Image: KatarzynaBialasiewicz/iStock/Getty Images)

If your little one is fussing or complaining of ear pain, you might assume he has an ear infection. Then, after taking a closer look, you see a rash on his outer ear that's causing the pain. The good news is, rashes hardly ever require a trip to the emergency room and there are things you can do at home to help them clear up.

Contact Dermatitis

Dermatitis is just a fancy name for skin inflammation. Contact dermatitis is inflammation or a rash caused by something your child's skin came in contact with. It's usually itchy and red, and may be painful or tender. If your child has contact dermatitis on her ear, she may have come in contact with something outdoors that irritated her skin, such as poison ivy or poison sumac. Chemicals, dyes and perfumes can also cause contact dermatitis, so your new laundry detergent or shampoo may be the cause. Nickel and other metals can also cause contact dermatitis; if your child has a new pair of earrings and the rash has just appeared, you may have found the culprit. If your child has contact dermatitis, first clean the area thoroughly to remove any residue that's causing the rash. Hydrocortisone cream can help this rash.

Impetigo

Impetigo is caused by bacteria and is common in kids. This rash appears as red sores that become oozing blisters and then crust over. The crust is a golden honey color. It usually appears around the nose and mouth, but this rash can appear anywhere, including your child's ears. Impetigo treatment requires a prescription ointment.

Eczema

If your child has a genetic tendency toward dry skin and comes in contact with an allergen, eczema can be the result. Mild eczema looks like flat white patches on your child's skin, but when it flares up it becomes red, raised and irritated. Your child might only have one small patch of eczema or it may appear in spots all over her body. Hydrocortisone cream can help relieve the symptoms of eczema.

Insect Bites

That painful rash on your child's ear might be caused by insect bites. Just because you haven't been outdoors or don't have pets, don't discount the idea that bugs could be behind your child's rash. All it would take is one insect to sneak into your house and your child could have several red, itchy, painful bumps. Over-the-counter antihistamine or anti-itch ointment can help relieve the pain and itching of insect bite rashes.

Ringworm

Ringworm is caused by a fungus passed from animals or other people. It appears as a red ring with normal-looking skin in the middle. Ringworm rash can be itchy and irritating; your child may have just one of these rings or many. It can be accompanied by a tiny red rash on other parts of the body because of an allergic reaction to the fungus. Ringworm can be treated by applying over-the-counter clotrimazole twice a day until the rash is gone.

Tips

It's a good idea to call your child's doctor if he has a rash so you'll be sure to treat it properly. Some painful rashes can be caused by a virus such as chicken pox, but these illnesses cause a rash over the entire body. They are not likely to cause a rash in just one small location such as the ear. When washing your child's ear, be careful not to get any water in the ear canal. If the rash extends inside the ear, call the doctor.

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