Earache is a pain that you may feel in one or both ears. The pain commonly occurs in the middle and inner ear. The pain may start gradually, or it may be sudden and sharp. Earache seems to happen to children more than adults. Infection or blockage of the ear tubes can cause earache. The most common symptoms are pain, swelling or pus leaking out of the affected ear(s).
Earache can be treated with an antibiotic medicine, depending on the type and severity of the infection. Your healthcare provider may recommend ear drops and/or pills to swallow. Most ear infections go away when treated, some may reoccur but there is usually no permanent damage. Be careful with earaches that start after an accident, as the damage may be serious and possibly permanent if left untreated.
Any of the following may cause ear pain:
- Infection of your ear by bacteria from dirty water (e.g. swimmer’s ear) or virus (e.g. the common cold) can cause pain in your ears.
- Excess build-up of wax in your ear can cause discomfort and pain.
- You may injure your ears when using sharp objects like biro caps or brooms to clean your ear. Use cotton buds to clean your ears instead.
- Overuse of earphones may irritate your ear’s skin, causing discomfort and pain.
- If you have a mouth, jaw, or tooth infection, you may feel pain in your ears too. In this case, there is nothing wrong with your ears. This is called referred pain.
It is essential to visit your healthcare provider if you notice any of the following:
- Prolonged ear pain for more than three days.
- Fluid like blood or pus coming out from your ear.
- Difficulty hearing well.
- Swelling around or inside your ear.
- You feel like there is an object inside your ear that makes you uncomfortable.
- You have other symptoms like fever, headache, itching or dizziness.
You can prevent an earache if you avoid swimming in dirt water, avoid inserting objects (including sharp ones) into your ear and avoid injury to your ear. If you experience an earache due to an ear infection or a hit to your ear, see your healthcare provider immediately to prevent the earache from getting worse.
Ear pain most times goes away by itself in a few days, especially when you take pain relievers like paracetamol. You can manage or treat the symptom with the following:
- Put a warm or cool, wet napkin or cloth around the ear that is causing you pain.
- Earaches from cold and congestion can be relieved by over-the-counter decongestants.
- Keep your ear dry by putting cotton wool in it while bathing. You can also pat it dry with a clean towel after bathing or swimming.
- Try to sit upright to reduce the pressure in your ear.
- Chewing gum or swallowing may sometimes reduce the pain and pressure in your ear.
- Your ear doctor may prescribe antibiotic ear drops to fight infection. If the pain does not resolve, your doctor may do more tests and prescribe more medicines to help you.
- You may also get a prescription for ear drops that break down wax if your ear produces too much wax.
- If there is a swelling or pus inside your ears, your healthcare provider may drain it.
- If your hearing is affected, your healthcare provider can recommend you wear hearing aids. Locally fabricated options may be available and affordable.
- Your healthcare provider may also give you a potent pain reliever to relieve the pain and discomfort.
Your ear pain should resolve in a few days. Try not to use objects to clean your ear because the dirt and excess wax usually drain out naturally. If the pain comes back after treating it, you should visit your healthcare provider again for treatment. Using antibiotic ear drops without prescription may lead to an infection that is hard to treat (resistant bacteria). Make sure you only use antibiotics when your healthcare provider prescribes them.
Earache does not commonly cause any permanent disability or loss of hearing. If this happens, speak to your healthcare provider so they can identify the cause.