Earaches usually occur in children, but they can occur in adults as well. An earache may affect one or both ears, but the majority of the time it is in one ear. It may be constant or come and go, and the pain may be dull, sharp, or burning.
If you have an ear infection, fever and temporary hearing loss may occur. Young children who have ear infections tend to be fussy and irritable. They may also tug or rub their ears. Read on for other symptoms, causes, treatments, and more.
The ear has many parts to it, and each may cause ache, pain or other discomfort. Pain may come from one or many parts of the ear, depending on the situation.
Causes of outer earaches
The helix and auricle form the outer part of the ear cartilage and may become inflamed and infected. Inflammation may be due many reasons including:
- Skin infection or cellulitis
- Chronic skin irritations, like atopic dermatitis
- An injured auricle is a common wrestling injury. If a hematoma (bruise/blood clot) forms, it can be very painful and may cause damage to the underlying cartilage, resulting in a cauliflower ear.
- The ear canal may be a source of pain due to infection or trauma.
Causes of swimmer’s ear (otitis externa) earache
Otitis externa is inflammation of the ear canal, and is often referred to as “swimmer’s ear.”
- Irritation to the skin that lines the canal may be due to minor trauma, like trying to clean ear wax with a sharp object and causing a scratch that becomes inflamed or infected.
- swimmer’s ear describes inflammation caused by retained water in the ear canal. The dark, warm, moist area may promote bacterial growth and predispose to infection.
- Cerumen (ear wax) impaction. Ear wax is part of the body’s protective mechanism to lubricate the ear canal and prevent infection. If the wax hardens and builds excessively, it may cause significant pain. This is especially true if the wax presses against the eardrum.
- Foreign body. When a foreign body is inserted in the ear and cannot be removed, pain and inflammation may occur. These may include Q-tips, hair pins, and other narrow objects that are often used to scratch an itch or to remove ear wax. This is never safe, and nothing should be inserted into the ear canal. In addition to irritation of the external canal, the ear drum may also be perforated or damaged.
To treat the pain, you can use painkillers, such as paracetamol or ibuprofen, which you can buy over the counter. Children under the age of 16 shouldn’t take aspirin.
Placing a warm flannel against the affected ear may also help relieve the pain.
Your pharmacist may be able to recommend over-the-counter eardrops for your earache. Tell them about your symptoms and ask for their advice first.
If an earache is not severe, or if a person is waiting for medical treatment to take effect, they may wish to try home remedies to relieve pain.
Heat from an electric heating pad or hot pack can reduce inflammation and pain in the ear.
Apply a hot pad to the ear for 20 minutes. For best results, people should touch the neck and throat with the hot pad.
A cold pack can help with the pain of an earache.
Try wrapping ice in paper towels or freezing a cold pack and then covering it with a light cloth. Hold this to the ear and the area immediately under the ear for 20 minutes.
Over-the-counter ear drops can reduce pressure in the ear caused by fluid and earwax.
People should read the directions carefully, and talk to a doctor before using ear drops on a child.
Gentle massage can help with ear pain that radiates from the jaw or teeth, or that causes a tension headache.
People can massage the tender area, as well as any surrounding muscles. For example, if the area behind the ear hurts, try massaging the muscles of the jaw and neck.
Olive oil can provide fast relief from an earache. It serves as a lubricant and helps get rid of an infection in the ear. Olive oil can also be helpful in stopping buzzing sensations inside the ears.
Onion is one of the most readily available home remedies for an earache. The antiseptic and antibacterial properties in onions work well in treating the problem.
Ginger has strong anti-inflammatory properties that can be helpful in treating ear infections. It is also an excellent natural painkiller.