What is earache?
Earache is any pain originating from the ears. An earache may affect one or both ears, but the majority of the time it’s in one ear. Pain in the ear may be dull, sharp, or burning, and it may feel constant or come and go.
Earaches and ear pain in children are a fact of life for parents and are one of the most common reasons they call their pediatrician after hours. Experts estimate that 3 out of 4 babies develop ear infections, when fluid in the middle ear builds up and inflammation develops, but diagnosing the exact cause can be challenging.
How common is earache?
Earache is extremely common. Most people assume earaches and ear pain happen only to children, but they can also happen to adults. Please discuss with your doctor for further information.
Which signs and symptoms can earache usually be associated with?
Related signs and symptoms include:
- Bleeding from ear
- Clear or pus-filled drainage
- Decreased hearing
- Difficulty sleeping or irritability (infant or toddler)
- Dizziness or spinning sensation
- Feeling of fullness in ear
- Headache or facial pain
- Itchy nose, mouth or throat
- Mild body aches
- Nausea or vomiting
- Redness in ear canal
- Redness or swelling of outer ear
- Ringing or buzzing in ear
- Runny or stuffy nose
- Scaly or flaking skin on outer ear
- Sore throat
- Watery or itchy eyes
What causes earache?
Causes of earache can include:
- Ear infections. Ear infections are a common cause of earaches or ear pain. Ear infections can occur in the outer, middle, and inner ear.Outer ear infection can be caused by swimming, wearing hearing aids or headphones that damage the skin inside the ear canal, or putting cotton swabs or fingers in the ear canal. Skin in the ear canal that gets scratched or irritated can lead to infection. Water softens the skin in the ear canal, which can create a breeding ground for bacteria. Middle ear infection can be caused by infections that stem from a respiratory tract infection. Fluid buildup behind the ear drums caused by these infections can breed bacteria. Labyrinthitis is an inner ear disorder that is sometimes caused by viral or bacterial infections from respiratory illnesses.
- Changes in air pressure. Many people experience ear pain and mild hearing loss or muffling due to sudden changes in air pressure, such as traveling on an airplane or riding on an elevator. While disconcerting, this kind of ear pain is temporary and rarely leads to lasting hearing problems.
- Excessive earwax buildup. Excessive earwax that builds up in the ear canal can also cause pressure and pain in the ear. However, cleaning earwax with cotton swabs or other objects can inadvertently damage the eardrum and push the wax farther back into the ear, making it harder to remove. Excessive earwax should be diagnosed and treated by a healthcare professional.
- Ruptured eardrum. People who experience intense ear pain accompanied by clear or bloody fluid from the ear may have a ruptured eardrum. Ruptured eardrums can be caused by injuries to the head and neck area, changes in air or water pressure — from going scuba diving, for example — inner ear infections, and less commonly by being around loud noises. A ruptured eardrum is a hole or perforation in the membrane that separates the inner and outer ear. Ruptured eardrums can be very painful and may result in temporary or permanent hearing loss, but they usually heal on their own.
Some ear pain comes from a “referred source,” meaning the sensation of pain is felt in the ear but originates elsewhere in the body. Other conditions that may result in earache include:
- Strep throat
- Sinus infection
- Temporomandibular joint (TMJ) syndrome
- Arthritis affecting the jaw
- Infected tooth
- Impacted tooth
- Trigeminal neuralgia (chronic facial nerve pain)
The conditions mentioned above are some common causes of earache. Consult with your doctor for an accurate diagnosis.
What increases my risk for earache?
There are many risk factors for earache, such as:
- Young age
- Upper respiratory tract infections
- Allergic rhinitis
- Mucosal disease of the ears, nose, or throat, such as sinusitis
- Enlarged structures in your ears, nose, or throat like the adenoids, turbinates, or nasal polyps
- A weakened immune system
- A family history of susceptibility to ear infections
- Group child care
- Poor air quality, such as exposure to tobacco smoke or high levels of air pollution
- Clenching and biting inside of lips and mouth
- Dental caries and abscess
Please consult with your doctor for further information.
When to see your doctor
When should I see my doctor?
You should contact your doctor if you or your loved one has any of the following:
- Persistent fever of 40ºcor higher. For an infant, seek medical help immediately for a fever higher than 38ºc.
- Severe pain that stops suddenly
- Bad headache
- Swelling around the ear
- Drooping of the facial muscles
- Blood or pus draining from the ear
- Earache that gets worse or does not improve in 24 to 48 hours
On noticing one of these symptoms or having any questions, please consult with your doctor. Everyone’s body acts differently. It is always best to discuss with your doctor to get the best solutions for your situation.
Lifestyle changes & home remedies
What are some lifestyle changes or home remedies that can help me manage earache?
These following lifestyles and home remedies might help you cope with earache:
- Apply a cold washcloth to the ear.
- Avoid getting the ear wet.
- Sit upright to help relieve ear pressure.
- Use over-the-counter (OTC) ear drops.
- Take OTC pain relievers.
- Chew gum to help relieve pressure.
- Feed an infant to help them relieve their pressure.
Some earaches may be preventable. Try these preventive measures:
- Avoid smoking and exposure to secondhand smoke.
- Keep foreign objects out of the ear.
- Dry the ears after swimming or bathing.
- Avoid allergy triggers, such as dust and pollen.
People at risk for ear pain should avoid loud music, concerts, and environmental noise, such as banging construction. If you can’t avoid loud noises, it’s worth investing in a good pair of earplugs or noise-canceling headphones.
If you swim, wear earplugs and a bathing cap. Always take time to carefully dry your ears after swimming, showering, or bathing.
If you have any questions, please consult with your doctor for the best solutions.
Hello Health Group does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.
What Causes Earache? https://www.healthline.com/symptom/earache. Accessed February 22, 2019.
Causes and Risk Factors of Middle Ear Infection. https://www.verywellhealth.com/what-causes-ear-infections-1191903#common-risk-factors. Accessed February 22, 2019.
Ear infection (middle ear). https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/ear-infections/symptoms-causes/syc-20351616. Accessed February 22, 2019.
Diagnosis of Ear Pain. https://www.aafp.org/afp/2008/0301/p621.html. Accessed February 22, 2019.
What Is Ear Pain? https://www.everydayhealth.com/ear-pain/guide/. Accessed February 22, 2019.
Earache. https://www.mayoclinic.org/symptom-checker/earache-child/related-factors/itt-20009075. Accessed February 22, 2019.
Review Date: February 22, 2019 | Last Modified: February 22, 2019