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What is Earache or Ear Pain?, Causes, Symptoms, Diagnosis and Treatments

Updated on July 15, 2011
Ear Pain
Ear Pain
Ear Pain
Ear Pain

Earache or Ear Pain:

What is Ear Pain?

Aching or pain in the ear is called otalgia. Ear pain is usually caused by an infection of the ear area, including outer ear infections, mastoiditis, or middle ear infections. However, pain in the ear can also arise from infections or conditions in nearby regions that affect the ear nerves. This is called "referred pain" and may arise from dental conditions, jaw disorders, or afflictions of the upper digestive tract and throat area. There are a variety of possible causes of ear pain and any ear pain symptoms needs prompt professional medical advice.

What are Causes of Ear Pain?

Ear ache can have various causes, the most common of which is when foreign objects are pushed into the ear in the effort of cleaning it.
In this case, the ear wax is pushed deeper and deeper into the ear cavity where they harden for some time and cause pain, impairing hearing in the process.
Some other and common causes of ear pain are:

  1. Swimming - when you swim without ear plugs and this allows the water to enter your ear canal. There are different bacteria in the pool from all the other users of the pool. This water get into you ear and causes ear infection and you will need ear pain relief.
  2. Common cold - this can cause pressure to build up in the ears, causing ear ache pain relief.
  3. Injured part of the body that is related to the ear, like a tooth ache, can cause headache pain.Each of the different ear pain has different types of pain relief. But there are some things that you can do to get relief from many different types of instances. This will help you get a good nights rest.

What are the symptoms of Ear Pain?

When a person complains of ear pain, the healthcare professional needs to know:

  1. when the pain started.
  2. whether the pain is constant.
  3. whether it is getting worse, better, or staying the same.
  4. whether anything decreases the pain or make the ear pain worse.
  5. if there is any ringing in the ear.
  6. if a change in position increases pain.
  7. if there are any other symptoms, such as fever, vomiting, headache, itching, or pain in other areas of the face, such as the sinuses or jaw.
  8. if there is drainage from the ear and, if so, the color and consistency of the drainage.
  9. if there is any hearing impairment.
  10. if the individual has a feeling of dizziness or vertigo, a sensation that the room is spinning around.
  11. what medications, drugs, or herbs the person takes, if any
  12. what other medical problems the person has, if any

Ear Treatment
Ear Treatment
Ear Treatment
Ear Treatment

Treatment of Ear Pain :

Earache Treatment:

During an ear exam, your child’s health care provider will look for fluid behind the eardrum
and test to see if the eardrum moves in response to a puff of air. Antibiotic treatment is
generally recommended if fluid is present, the eardrum does not move, and your child has
one or more of the following symptoms:

  1. Ear pain (children often indicate this by tugging on their ear)
  2. Fever
  3. Irritability
  4. Bulging yellow/red eardrum

Your child’s health care provider may suggest a “wait and see” approach for 48-72 hours if:

  1. Symptoms are mild and not complicated by other medical issues
  2. The eardrum has not burst
  3. The child is more than 24 months old

Your health care provider may recommend acetaminophen (like Tylenol) for any pain. If your provider prescribes an antibiotic, make sure your child takes all the medicine as directed, even if he or she begins to feel better after a few days.

Other Treatment :

Home Treatment / Care:

The following steps may help an earache:

  1. A cold pack or cold wet wash cloth applied to the outer ear for 20 minutes may reduce pain.
  2. For children old enough to safely chew gum, chewing may help relieve the pain and pressure of an ear infection.
  3. If a child is uncomfortable lying down, resting in an upright position can help reduce pressure in the middle ear.
  4. Olive oil or over-the-counter ear drops are gentle and effective, as long as the eardrum has not ruptured. Prescription drops, such as Auralgan, are also effective for pain relief.
  5. Over-the-counter pain relievers, such as acetaminophen or ibuprofen, can provide relief for children and adults with an earache. (Do NOT give aspirin to children.)

You can relieve ear pain caused by rapidly descending from high altitudes by swallowing or chewing gum. Allowing infants to suck on a bottle while the plane is descending can help.
If you feel any problem then Call your Doctor.

What will happen at the doctor’s office?

During an examination, the doctor will use an instrument called an otoscope to assess the ear’s condition. With it, the doctor will perform an examination to check for redness in the ear and/or fluid behind the eardrum. With the gentle use of air pressure, the doctor can also see if the eardrum moves. If the eardrum doesn’t move and/or is red, an ear infection is probably present.
Two other tests may also be performed:

  1. Audiogram This tests if hearing loss has occurred by presenting tones at various pitches.
  2. Tympanogram This measures the air pressure in the middle ear to see how well the eustachian tube is working and how well the eardrum can move.

The importance of medication:

The doctor may prescribe one or more medications. It is important that all the medication(s) be taken as directed and that any follow-up visits be kept. Often, antibiotics to fight the infection will make the earache go away rapidly, but the infection may need more time to clear up. So, be sure that the medication is taken for the full time your doctor has indicated. Other medications that your doctor may prescribe include an antihistamine (for allergies), a decongestant (especially with a cold), or both.
Sometimes the doctor may recommend a medication to reduce fever and/or pain. Analgesic ear drops can ease the pain of an earache. Call your doctor if you have any questions about you or your child’s medication or if symptoms do not clear.

What Can I Do Immediately To Get Relief From Earache?

Raising your head a little in bed by using extra pillows or adjusting the mattress may help.
If your ear feels blocked, do not attempt to clean it with cotton buds or anything else. You may damage your ear permanently. If the problem is a build-up of dried wax in the ear, trying to get rid of it may just push the wax further in. You can buy ear drops from your pharmacist that will soften the wax.
If your ear canal is inflamed, try not to get your ear wet until the infection has cleared up.
Your pharmacist will stock a variety of products for easing the pain of earache or relieving inflammation. Unless your ear is running, you will not usually need antibiotics for a middle ear infection.

How to Prevent Ear Pain:

Refrain from putting things into your ears such as cotton swabs, bobby pins, your fingers, etc. as this can cause damage to your eardrum and increase your chances of something getting stuck in your ear/eardrum.
When blowing your nose, do it gently and one nostril at a time.
Avoid smoke as much as possible. Smoking and secondhand smoke can increase your risk of infection.
When swimming, wear earplugs and refrain from swimming in dirty waters.
If you’re an adult and you happen to have an earache, try applying a warm washcloth or a heating pad next to your ear. You can also try the cold therapy method by applying a cold compress or ice bag next to your ear for 20 minutes. Be sure to take a pain reliever, such as an acetaminophen, aspirin, or Motrin (ibuprofen) to help with the pain and reduce inflammation. If nothing works, seek medical attention.
To help open your Eustachian tubes and keep them drained, try the following:
Sleep with your head propped up
Chew gum – especially when experiencing pressure changes (i.e. during plane travel).
Stay awake during the ascending/descending of plane travel – this is when eardrums will plug up and cause pain. Try taking a decongestant a few hours before your plane ride as this will help prevent buildup in your nasal passages.
Try yawning to contract the muscles that open your Eustachian tubes.
Gently blow through your nose while holding both nostrils closed until you hear a pop. This helps promote ear drainage and can be done several times a day.
Take a decongestant when you get a cold and continue taking it until the cold is gone. Check with your doctor to see if it is ok for you to take a decongestant.
Take a hot shower – the steam will help to break up and soften earwax buildup.

In the case of children and earaches, usually they are brought on by an infection in the middle ear. This could be due to the fact that the Eustachian tubes are shorter and smaller in children.
How to tell if your child has contracted an earache:

  1. If you notice the ear seeping with fluid or excess ear wax.
  2. If your child begins pulling or rubbing his/her ear often, sometime your child will hold or cup his/her hand over the ear.
  3. If your child complains of any ear pain.
  4. If your child develops a fever.
  5. If your child becomes irritable.
  6. If your child has trouble hearing you.
  7. If your child suffers a sudden loss of appetite.

Make sure that your child finishes, in its entirety; the prescription of antibiotics to make sure that the bacteria has been destroyed. If your child has been seen by the doctor, and has taken medicine (usually antibiotics) for under two days and shows no signs of improvement you should visit your doctor again. Also if there is any swelling behind or around the ear, or if any drainage from the ear continues, you should contact your doctor again.


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