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Earache

A woman with both of her ears over her ears. The word – earache – can be seen

Please note that all content on this website (including, but not limited to, copy, images, commentary, advice, tips, hints, guides, observations) is provided as an informational resource only. It is not a substitute for correct and accurate diagnosis, or recommendation, or treatment by a medical professional. Please ensure that you obtain proper guidance from your GP, or another medical professional. The information provided on this website does not create any patient-medical expert relationship and must not be used in any way as a substitute for such. 


Earache is a common condition that people of all ages can experience. It can range from mild pain to severe. However, it usually doesn’t signify anything too serious.

Earache can last several days, or weeks, and it depends on the cause for how long the symptoms can last.

In some cases, earache is caused by trauma to the ear, such as when children rub, pull, or place things into the ear canal.

In most cases, there is not anything serious to worry about. However, if earache happens alongside other symptoms, visiting a medical professional is the best option.

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Photo by Anand Dandekar from Pexels

The main symptom of earache is a pain in the ear. It often feels like a dull ache that can affect the side of the face, or head. The pain can be mild, or severe. Severe cases typically indicate there could be an infection present.

For adults and older children, it is generally easy to spot earache. However, in babies, it can be slightly harder to notice. Babies and small children may not understand the feeling of earache, and they will display other signs that there is irritation.

Some key things to look out for include:

  • Rubbing, or pulling ears
  • No reaction to specific sounds
  • Temperature of 38°C (100.4°F), or above
  • Restless and unable to settle
  • Not interested in food
  • Loss of balance.

In both adults and children, earache can affect one ear, or both, at the same time.

Causes of Earache

A wide range of reasons can cause earache. In most cases, it clears up within a few days. However, some causes may take longer to heal, or require prescribed medicine. Sometimes, the reason can't be explained.

There are some primary causes of an earache. Some of the symptoms are:

Ear Pain And Toothache

If you are experiencing ear pain and toothache, this is often caused by a problem with teeth and gums. It could be the sign of a dental abscess – children experience this when teething.

Change Of Hearing And Earache

Sometimes ear pain can affect hearing, but in some instances, it could be something that requires medical attention.

Ear wax build-up is a common issue for people that experience these issues, and if the build-up is substantial, the wax will need to be removed by a doctor, or nurse. There may also be something stuck in the ear, and it is advisable not to try and remove it yourself, as more damage could be done.

Glue ear is another cause of these symptoms. This occurs when the middle part of the ear canal fills up with fluid. It typically clears up within three months, but can cause temporary hearing loss.

Ear Pain When Swallowing

If ear pain is worse when swallowing, then this could be a sign of a sore throat, or tonsillitis.

Fever And Ear Pain

If you have a temperature alongside ear pain, this is generally a sign of a cold, flu, or an ear infection. Prescription medication may need to be taken to help alleviate the condition.

Ear Infections

Ear infections are quite common, especially in children. They do not always require a visit to the doctor and typically get better within a few days.

If an infection is present, the symptoms usually start quickly and can be painful. There are some everyday things to look out for if an ear infection is suspected. These include:

  • A high temperature of 38°C (100.4°F), or above
  • Vomiting
  • Lack of energy
  • Pain inside the ear, or pressure in the ear
  • Discharge running from the ear
  • Hearing affected
  • Itching, irritation, or scaly skin in and around the ear.

Outer Ear Infections

Ear infections can also occur on the outer side of the ear. Bacterial, or fungal infections typically cause this. A pharmacist may be able to help with medication to clear the infection. However, in some cases, prescribed medication from the doctor may be necessary. There are several types of treatment, including antibiotic ear drops to treat bacterial infections and steroid ear drops to reduce swelling.

Treatment For Earache

In most cases, earache, or pain goes away by itself. However, if you’re concerned about the symptoms, a pharmacist can often help. They may be able to advise on the best ways to treat ear pain by yourself. Plus, they might also suggest products that you can take to relieve the pain, or infection.

In some cases, they may also advise that you see a doctor, depending on the symptoms.

Treating Earache At Home

Earache and pain can be uncomfortable, so to help relieve the symptoms, there are some things you can do at home.

Take Painkillers

Painkillers, such as paracetamol and ibuprofen, can be taken to help ease the pain and make the recovery more comfortable. However, the NHS states that under-16s should not take aspirin.

Warm Or Cold Flannel

A way to ease the pain is to place a warm, or cold flannel, on the ear for a short time. A reusable heat pad is a handy alternative to a warm flannel. On the other hand, a Fortuna instant ice pack is a great alternative to cold treatment.

Remove Any Discharge

While the ear is healing, it may produce discharge. Remove this by wiping with cotton wool and avoid putting anything into the ear, such as ear plugs, as this can cause more harm.

If you have earache, it’s also best to try and avoid water, soaps and shampoo getting into the ear to prevent further infection.

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Most earache, or pain, can be treated at home. There is lots of advice on the NHS website about how to alleviate the pain and symptoms. If required, a doctor, or pharmacist, will also be able to advise on the best options to treat the condition.

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Medical terms are often baffling and difficult to fully understand. To help, we have listed some frequently used terms below.

Discharge – liquid, or other substance, flowing from an infected area

Fever – temporary increase in body temperature, often indicating an infection

Flannel – a soft piece of cloth

Tonsillitis – inflammation of the tonsils that often cause pain and issues with swallowing