By Medicover Hospitals / 10 Mar 2021
Earache in the inner or outer ear that may interfere with the ability to hear, often caused by excess fluid and infection. Ear pain can have causes that aren't because of an underlying disease. Examples include tight headwear, poorly fitting headphones, sleeping on a hard surface, ear piercings, grinding teeth, or getting an object stuck in the ear.
- What is Earache?
- When to visit a Doctor?
- Home remedies
What is Earache?
- An earache is a pain or discomfort in the ear. Ear pain is also called earache. Your ear is divided into three sections: the outer ear, the middle ear, and the inner ear. The Eustachian tubes are responsible for equalizing the air pressure in the middle ear and allowing mucus to flow from the middle ear to the throat.
- An earache can affect one or both ears and can range from a mild, dull ache to a throbbing or almost crippling pain. A feeling of fullness in the ear, or a burning sensation, may accompany an earache. An earache can come on suddenly or progress slowly.
- The most common cause of earache in children is an infection of the middle ear. Otitis media is much less common in adults. In adults, ear pain is most often caused by an underlying condition in another area of the body that causes secondary ear pain, called referred ear pain. Causes of referred ear pain include disorders of the temporomandibular joint, jaw, and teeth. Referred ear pain increases with age.
- Depending on the cause, an earache can come on suddenly and go away quickly, like an earache from a change in altitude. An earache that does not go away within 24 to 48 hours or gets worse can be due to a variety of disorders and conditions, including arthritis of the jaw joint, an ear infection, or a foreign object in the ear.
- Since an earache may be due to a serious infection or other abnormal processes, you should see a doctor promptly for an earache that gradually gets worse or does not improve within 24 to 48 hours. An earache that stops suddenly or occurs with a bloody discharge may be a sign of a ruptured eardrum. Although this is not a medical emergency, you should see a doctor promptly if you suspect a ruptured eardrum.
- If you, your child, or someone you are with has ear pain accompanied by excessive crying, high fever, dizziness, change in alertness, swelling in the ears, or weakness of the face, seek medical attention immediately.
Injury, infection, ear irritation, or referred pain can cause earaches. Referred pain is pain that is felt elsewhere than at the site of infection or injury. For example, pain that comes from the jaw or teeth can be felt in the ear. Causes of earaches can include:
- Ear infections are a common cause of earache or ear pain. Ear infections can occur in the outer, middle, and inner ear.
- An 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 is scratched or irritated can lead to infection. Water softens the skin in the ear canal, which can create a breeding ground for bacteria.
- A middle ear infection can be caused by infections resulting from an infection of the respiratory tract. The buildup of fluid behind the eardrums caused by these infections can breed bacteria.
- Labyrinthitis is a disorder of the inner ear that is sometimes caused by viral or bacterial infections because of respiratory diseases.
Other common causes of earache:
- Change in pressure, such as when flying in an airplane
- Accumulation of earwax
- A foreign object in the ear
- Strep throat
- Sinus infection
- Shampoo or water trapped in the ear
- Use of cotton swabs in the ear
Less common causes of earache:
- Temporomandibular joint syndrome(TMJ)
- Perforated eardrum
- Arthritis affecting the jaw
- Infected tooth
- Impacted tooth
- czema in the ear canal
- Trigeminal neuralgia (chronic pain of the facial nerve)
- Adults and older children with mild hearing pain or pressure in the ear who do not have a fever or hearing loss usually do not need to see a doctor. This type of pain is usually caused by a blocked eustachian tube.
- If the ear pain is more severe or if there are other symptoms, it is advisable to consult a healthcare professional. Your ENT doctor will examine your ears, nose, and throat, and use a device called an otoscope (a lighted instrument) to look inside the ears and check for redness and fluid buildup behind the eardrum. The doctor may blow a puff of air through the otoscope into your eye to see if the eardrum is moving normally.
- Your doctor can test your hearing. One way is to check if you can hear the fingers rubbing near your ear.
Treatment for ear pain often depends on the cause of the problem. Common treatments include drugs, surgery.
- To reduce ear pain, your doctor may recommend over-the-counter (OTC) medications such as Tylenol (acetaminophen) or ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin). Your doctor may also recommend over-the-counter ear drops for pain relief, but these should never be used if there is a risk of your eardrum rupturing.
- Antibiotics are sometimes prescribed for ear infections, but in many cases, they are not necessary. In children, antibiotics such as amoxicillin can be used to treat severe ear infections or that last more than a few days.
- A buildup of earwax in the ear canal can cause an earache. However, never put anything in your ear - including a cotton swab, which will simply push the wax deeper into the ear instead of pulling it out. Excess earwax should be diagnosed and treated by a healthcare professional.
- Children who are prone to earaches from ear infections may need surgery in which a small tube is inserted into the eardrums to prevent fluid build-up. Short-term tubes usually last around 6-9 months before falling off on their own.
- Long-term tubes are larger and secured in place.
When to visit a Doctor?
Seek immediate medical attention if you:
Make an appointment with a doctor if you:
- Are an adult
- Have ear discharge
- Feel severe pain
- Have difficulty hearing
- Develop a fever
- Feel the pain that lasts longer than a day
- Notice that your hearing gets worse over time
- If your child becomes irritable and restless
If an earache is not severe or a person is waiting for medical treatment to work, they may want to try home remedies for pain relief.
Here are some effective home remedies for ear pain sufferers:
- Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) can temporarily reduce the pain of an earache. People with ear pain can try:
- It is important to remember that it is not safe to give aspirin to babies and toddlers. This is due to the risk of a life-threatening condition called Reye's syndrome.
- The heat from an electric heating pad or hot compress can reduce inflammation and pain in the ear.
- Apply a warm pillow to the ear for 20 minutes. For best results, people should touch the neck and throat with a warm pad.
- The heating pad should not be too hot. People should never fall asleep with a heating pad or allow a child to use a hot compress without adult supervision.
- A cold compress can relieve the pain of an earache.
- Try wrapping ice in a paper towel or freezing a cold compress, then covering it with a light cloth. Hold it against the ear and the area immediately below the ear for 20 minutes.
- The cold shouldn't hurt, and parents should never apply ice directly to their children's skin.
- Some people find that heat provides greater relief than cold. For others, alternating hot and cold compresses (20 minutes hot, followed by 20 minutes cold) provides the best pain relief.
- Ear drops can reduce the pressure in the ear caused by fluid and earwax.
- People should read the instructions carefully, and talk to a doctor before using ear drops on a child.
- Ear drops are not a substitute for prescription ear drops or antibiotics, so people should only use them for a few days. If symptoms return, people should see a doctor.
- It is important to remember that people should not use ear drops in a child with tubes in their ears or whose eardrum has ruptured.
- Gentle massage can help relieve ear pain that radiates to the jaw or teeth or causes a tension headache.
- People can massage the sensitive area and the surrounding muscles. For example, if the area behind the ear hurts, try massaging the jaw and neck muscles.
- Massage can also relieve pain from an ear infection.
- Using a downward motion, apply pressure starting just behind the ears and down the neck.
- Continue to apply downward pressure, work towards the front of the ears.
- This type of massage can help drain excess fluid from the ears and prevent the pain from getting worse.
- Garlic has long been used in traditional medicine for pain relief. Some research suggests that it has antimicrobial properties that can fight infection.
- People should not use it as a substitute for antibiotics recommended by a doctor. Instead, consider adding garlic to an antibiotic regimen to speed relief.
- Like garlic, onions can help fight infections and reduce pain. Like garlic, onions are not a substitute for medical care.
- Heat onion in the microwave for a minute or two. Then filter the liquid and apply several drops to the ear. A person may want to lie down for 10 minutes and then allow the fluid to drain out of the ear. Repeat this as needed.
Frequently Asked Questions:
Earaches can occur without infection. They can occur when air and fluid collect behind the eardrum. They can cause a feeling of fullness and discomfort. They can also impair hearing.
Ear infections can go away on their own in many cases, so a mild earache may not be a problem. A doctor should usually be consulted if symptoms have not improved within 3 days. If new symptoms appear, such as fever or loss of balance, a doctor should be consulted immediately.
However, earaches are not always caused by an ear infection. Other conditions can also cause pain in the ear.
Sharp pain in the ear can sometimes result from an infection of the sinuses - a network of air-filled cavities in the skull. There are three main types of sinus infection. These are otitis, infection, and inflammation of the ear, and the most common type of sinus infection.
Ear Pain in Children - https://pediatrics.aappublications.org/content/111/5/e574.short
Ear Pain - https://www.aafp.org/afp/2018/0101/p20.html
Ear Pain - https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jamapediatrics/article-abstract/190792