Ear pain (otalgia) may feel dull, sharp, or burning. The pain can come on gradually or suddenly. It can be permanent or it can come and go, depending on the reason. One or both ears may be affected. Although earache is more common in children, it can also occur in adults.
Read on to learn more about earache causes , home remedies, and treatments.
Causes of earache
Ear pain is a common symptom and can have a number of causes, including infections and injuries. Sometimes an earache is caused by reflected pain, which is pain that occurs in other parts of the body (such as the throat, teeth) and is felt in the ear.
Ear pain, although rare, can be caused by cancer. Always consult a healthcare professional if you have persistent earache.
One of the most common causes of earache is ear infections. Ear infections can occur in the inner, middle, and outer ear.
Inner ear infection
Labyrinthitis is an ear disorder caused by inflammation and / or irritation of the inner parts of the ear , which are responsible for balance and hearing. This can cause symptoms such as dizziness, nausea, vomiting, tinnitus, and temporary hearing loss . Inner ear infections do not usually cause earache.
An inner ear infection is usually caused by a viral or bacterial infection, but in some cases it can be a symptom of an autoimmune disease.
Middle ear infection (otitis media)
Middle ear infections (otitis media) occur when fluid and inflamed tissue build up in the middle ear (the area between the eardrum and the oval window of the inner ear).
Otitis media is more common after a cold or stuffy nose. Children are more susceptible to middle ear infections, but adults can get them too.
Symptoms include moderate to severe earache and fever. If left untreated, the eardrum can rupture due to increased fluid pressure.
External ear infection (otitis externa)
External ear infections (otitis externa) occur in the ear canal, which runs from the eardrum to where the outer ear meets the head.
This type of ear infection is commonly known as swimmer's ear . When water enters and remains in the ear, it creates a moist environment in which bacteria or fungi can grow and multiply, causing an infection.
Otitis externa can also occur when external objects placed in the ear (such as headphones, earphones, and cotton swabs ) damage the skin inside the ear canal, which can lead to infection.
Otitis media with effusion
Otitis media with effusion (OME) is a collection of fluid deep in the middle ear. The pressure of this fluid can cause pain and temporary hearing loss.
OME, sometimes called the "sticky eye," can go away on its own. Sometimes a small procedure to insert small tubes (sleeves) into the ear can help drain the fluid and relieve the condition.
Earwax is designed to protect the ear canal from bacteria, injury, and water. Sometimes the wax can build up or recede in the ear canal, causing a blockage.
Earwax buildup can sometimes cause earache. If the earwax is blocked, you may feel a sensation of fullness or fullness in your ear. You may also hear ringing in your ears or temporarily lose your hearing due to a blockage.
Eustachian tube block
The Eustachian tube is a narrow tube that connects the back of the nose to the middle ear. It protects the middle ear from bacteria and viruses, maintains the same air pressure in the middle ear space, and helps drain secretions from the middle ear .
If the Eustachian tube is blocked, bacteria or fluid can enter the ear and cause an infection. Symptoms of a blocked Eustachian tube include earache, ringing or popping sensations in the ear, dizziness, and hearing loss.
External causes of earache
Sometimes an earache does not occur because the problem is in the ear itself. Instead, the pain is felt in the ear, even if the problem is elsewhere (this is called reflected pain).
Common causes of reflected earache include:
- Dental problems : A tooth abscess (accumulation of pus on the teeth or gums caused by a bacterial infection) or a dental infection causes a throbbing sensation in the affected area of the mouth and can also be felt in the ear.
- Throat infection : A sore throat can cause pain when swallowing and ear discomfort may be felt. Sometimes an earache is a sign of a throat infection, such as tonsillitis.
- Temporomandibular joint syndrome (TMJ) : Sometimes the ear can feel pain in the joint that connects the lower jaw to the skull.
There are things you can do at home to help ease an earache, for example:
- Chew gum or yawn to make your ears pop.
- Apply a cold or warm compress to the outer ear for 15 minutes (alternate hot or cold compresses throughout the day).
- Do neck and jaw exercises that rotate the neck and move the jaw.
- Sit straight.
- Take a hot bath or shower to relieve a stuffy nose.
Over-the-counter medications can help reduce ear pain and inflammation. Some options include:
- Ear drops : These foods often contain glycerin and rubbing alcohol, which help dry excess fluid from the ear.
- Decongestants : These medications (such as Sudafed, Afrin nasal spray) reduce the inflammation of the mucous membranes, which helps to open the ear canals and relieve symptoms.
- Pain relievers : Over-the -counter pain relievers such as acetaminophen and ibuprofen can help with mild discomfort and inflammation.
Self-care and over-the-counter medications are not always enough to treat earaches. If the pain persists or worsens, it is important to see a doctor, especially if you have a fever, notice pus or fluid coming out of the ear, or if you have hearing loss.
Your doctor may prescribe medications for your earache, including:
- Antibiotics : If you have an ear infection caused by bacteria, your doctor may prescribe oral antibiotics (such as amoxicillin or penicillin).
- Ear drops : Your doctor may also prescribe antibiotic ear drops that are injected directly into your ear to help clear up the infection.
If wax build-up is causing your earache, your doctor may prescribe wax emollient ear drops to help break down the wax and allow it to come out on its own.
If you have ongoing earache or an ear condition that requires specialized treatment, your doctor may refer you to an ear, nose, and throat (ENT) specialist. This doctor may perform additional tests and recommend a procedure to relieve the earache.
For example, if the earache is caused by a blockage of the wax, the ENT doctor may perform a procedure to remove the buildup of wax from the ears for relief.
Ear washing (ear irrigation) is a medical procedure that removes affected earwax, debris, dead skin cells, and infected tissue from the ear canal.
The doctor uses an instrument called an otoscope to obtain a clear image of the middle ear and determine if irrigation is required. If so, water or saline is injected into the ear with a syringe to remove excess earwax.
A micro suction (wax cleaning) is a procedure in which a doctor uses a small vacuum to gently remove and remove wax. A quick and effective method is often used when ear washing or ear washing has not worked.
After examining the ear with an otoscope or binaural microscope, the doctor gently aspirates the wax to remove it. The process takes only a few minutes and the discomfort during the procedure should be very minor (if any).
Frequently asked questions
How to get rid of earache quickly?
Homemade hot and cold compresses can help quickly relieve an earache. Apply a cold or warm compress to the outer ear for about 15 minutes at a time to relieve pain. Try alternating hot and cold compresses to determine which one gives you the most relief.
What is the best pain reliever for earache?
Over-the-counter pain relievers, such as acetaminophen (Tylenol) and ibuprofen (Motrin), generally help relieve ear pain. Alternate ibuprofen and acetaminophen every few hours for optimal pain relief.
How to relieve earache at night?
If earache is keeping you awake at night, try swallowing and yawning to open your Eustachian tubes. You can also sleep in an elevated position to relieve pressure on the eardrums if the pain is felt more when lying down.
How to prevent earache during flight?
Yawning, swallowing, and chewing gum during takeoff and landing can help prevent earache during flight.
Can Vicks VapoRub relieve earache?
No. There is no clinical evidence that Vicks VapoRub can relieve earache. Objects falling into the ear can cause debris to enter the ear and cause injury.
Are there essential oils for earache?
Some essential oils have antibacterial, antiviral, and pain-relieving properties that can also be beneficial for your ears. For example, tea tree oil and basil oil can help relieve earache.
Get the word of drug information
Mild earache often goes away on its own or with home remedies after a few days. If your earache gets worse or doesn't go away after a few days, it's important to see your doctor. Earache can be due to an infection or condition that requires treatment, such as antibiotics or a medical procedure.