Hesperian Health Guides

Something blocks sound from traveling through the ear

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HealthWiki > Helping Children Who Are Deaf > Chapter 15: Why children lose their hearing and what we can do > Something blocks sound from traveling through the ear

Children can lose their hearing temporarily when something like hard ear wax or another object blocks sound from traveling through the ear.

Ear wax plugs

Ear wax helps to prevent infection. It forms a protective layer on the delicate skin in the ear, helps keep the ear clean, and makes the skin waterproof. Usually, the wax gradually moves out of the ear, carrying with it trapped dirt and dust, but sometimes the wax builds up, hardens, and becomes stuck. This can happen because of cleaning ears with cotton buds
A boy putting a finger in his ear.
(small sticks with cotton on the ends) or other objects that push the wax deep into the ear canals. This hard plug of ear wax keeps sounds from traveling easily through the ear and can cause an infection. Ear wax can also be a problem for children who use hearing aids, so these children's ears should be checked regularly and their hearing aids should be cleaned if necessary.
  • A child seems to hear less well than usual.
  • Sometimes you can see the plug of hard wax in the ear.
  • Sometimes the wax plug or infection around it may cause the child to have an earache with pus draining out.

A small amount of wax is normal and should not be touched.

A man with his son, who is scratching his ear.

Insect in the ear

  • The child may say he can feel or hear scratching, crawling, or bumping in the ear.
  • Fluid or pus may drain from the ear.
  • A child may hear less well than usual in the affected ear.

Infection of the ear canal caused by objects or water in the ear canal

Infection in the outer ear can be caused by insects, wax, water, or other material getting into the ear, or if a child scratches inside the ear with something (like a small stick). This infection of the ear canal is more common in adults than in children.

A boy caring for the ear of his younger sister.
  • Pain — if wiggling the outer ear causes pain, there is probably infection in the outer ear.
  • Itching in the ear
  • A blocked or full feeling in the ear
  • The ear canal may be swollen.
  • A child may hear less well in the affected ear.


Older children can help care for their brothers' and sisters' ears by checking regularly to see if there is a lot of wax (or pus, or any objects) inside. Ask them to tell you right away if they see anything wrong.

Teach them never to put their fingers or anything else in the ear to try and remove objects or wax. This can push the material in farther and damage the ear drum. Prevent children from scratching inside the ear with anything, as it can cause infection.

Keep children's ears dry. After swimming or bathing, teach children to shake their heads gently to clear the water out. If possible, children should not swim or bathe in dirty or polluted water. If a child has had infections before, try putting a few drops of rubbing alcohol or vinegar into his ears after swimming or bathing.

For infection of the ear canal caused by objects or water in the ear
Mix 1 spoon of vinegar with 1 spoon of boiled water (cooled until warm). Put drops of this solution into the ear 3 or 4 times a day.
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If there is fever or swelling around the ear:
Give amoxicillin or another of the antibiotics for sudden (acute) ear infections. (See information on dosages).
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If you do not have any of these medicines or if you give the medicine and there is no improvement in 2 days, get medical help immediately.
If there is a lot of wax or anything else in the ear:
Wax can be removed by washing with warm boiled water. The ear must be kept as dry as possible afterward.
If infection or itching continues after the bad pain goes away:
Put 2 or 3 drops of gentian violet (2% in 10% alcohol) in the ear once a week for 2 or 3 weeks.
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Note: A child can bathe, but should not put his ears under water or swim for 2 weeks after the infection is gone.