Earache is a very common condition and causes pain in your ear. The pain may be achy, piercing or burning, and it can affect just one or both ears. It commonly affects children, but adults can get earache too.
The condition is usually caused by a minor infection in one or more parts of the ear, and is not usually anything to be concerned about. It’ll usually get better on its own after a few days.
The pain may come and go, or it can be constant, and can feel quite severe, but this is usually due to the sensitivity of your ears and not due to a serious problem. If you are concerned though, you can speak to one of our doctors for more advice and reassurance.
While it is common to feel ear pain at some point in your life, there are some people that are more susceptible to the problem:
- Earache in children is very common. If a baby has had an ear infection before the age of 6 months, it is more likely that they will develop further infections as they grow up.
- Adults who swim regularly can be more susceptible to earache, due to water getting inside the ears and spreading bacteria.
- People with ear problems, such as if the tubes in your ears have not developed properly, may be more susceptible to ear infections and earache.
The most common signs that you have earache include:
- Pain in or around your ear
- Fluid or pus in your ear
- Impaired hearing
Sometimes you may have earache and a headache together, but again, this is usually nothing to worry about. However, if the headache is severe you should see a doctor.
Likewise, an earache and sore throat may happen together, due to the closely related nature of the ear and throat. If the sore throat is severe, it is a good idea to see a doctor.
Symptoms in children
Children are more susceptible to infection as their immune system develops, which is why earache is very common in children. They are also still developing their mature ear structures and may have slight anatomical differences, such as a flatter eustachian tube that can make them more susceptible. Their adenoids can also be larger and get infected, which can affect the ear.
Sometimes they may suffer from recurring problems, and this could result in small tubes, known as grommets, being required. These are inserted into the ear-drum in a child's ears to help prevent further infections developing and to ensure any fluid building up is allowed to escape from the ear. They will naturally fall out after a few months as the ear-drum grows back. A doctor will be able to recommend if this is something that your child may need.
Signs your child could have an earache include if they:
- Tug at their ears
- Are more irritable than usual
- Have difficulty responding to sounds
- Have a high temperature
- Have no appetite
- Lose their balance
- Sleeping poorly
When to see a doctor
If you or your child’s earache is persistent, or if you experience other symptoms, you should speak to a doctor for more advice. Other symptoms to look out for include:
- Severe pain
- Severe pain that stops suddenly, which could be the eardrum perforating
- A high temperature
- Bad headache
- Swelling around your ear
- Blood coming from the ear
If your child or baby has a stiff neck, appears very drowsy or seems very distressed, you should seek medical help urgently.
Earache in children can also be caused by an object being put into the ear. If you can see something, contact your GP, as they may need to refer you to someone who can remove it safely, or go to A&E. Do not try and remove it yourself, as you could push it in further, causing more pain.
There are many common causes of earache, including:
Middle ear infections and outer ear infections are the most common cause of ear pain. If fluid is coming out of your ear, it is likely that this is what you have. Usually they will clear up on their own in a couple of days, but if not, see a GP and they may prescribe ear drops or antibiotics.
Labyrinthitis is caused by viral or bacterial infections following a respiratory illness, which can lead to earache.
Using cotton buds and pushing them too far into the ear may cause damage, or even a perforated ear drum. This can result in a loss of hearing in the affected ear, as well as earache. A perforated eardrum will normally heal on its own in a few weeks.
This is a buildup of fluid inside the ear and is more common in children than adults. It does not usually cause pain, although the pressure build up may give you earache. If you have glue ear it can take a few months to clear up and if the problem persists, grommets may be required. See a doctor if you believe this is what you or your child has.
Grinding your teeth, also known as bruxism, can cause earache. Clenching your jaw and grinding your teeth, usually at night, puts a strain on the muscles around the jaw, leading to the ache.
A buildup of earwax may be causing your ear pain. Speak to a pharmacist, or a GP about ways to soften or remove it, which should cure your earache.
Eczema in the ear canal
If you have eczema, it can appear in your ear canal and may make the canal more susceptible to infection leading to earache.
As we mentioned, earache is not usually a cause for concern and it will normally get better on its own. However, if you are worried, or if you or your child is showing other symptoms, it’s a good idea to see a doctor.
You can use painkillers, such as paracetamol or ibuprofen, to treat the pain at home, or a pharmacist may be able to recommend over the counter ear drops that may help relieve the pain.
There are a number of earache home remedies you can try to help relieve the pain too, including:
- Avoiding getting your ear wet
- Applying a warm compress to your affected ear
- Sitting upright to relieve the pressure in your ear
- Feeding a baby or infant to help them reduce the pressure in their ear – the swallowing can sometimes help.
How we can help
You or your child can see a GP about your earache at a time that suits you. Our doctors are available 7 days a week and can offer you the advice, diagnosis and treatment you may need.
They can also refer you to a specialist for further investigation or treatment if needed. Book your appointment today, and start feeling better.
Updated: February 12, 2021