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What Causes Earaches?

Ear pain, commonly referred to as an earache, is a common complaint and can result from infection, poor Eustachian tube function, or temporomandibular joint problems (TMJ). Other causes include ear trauma, perforated eardrum, sinus infection, sudden changes in pressure, excess buildup of earwax, sore throat, shampoo or water in the ear, tooth infection, arthritis of the jaw, and a foreign object in the ear.

What Are the Symptoms of an Earache?

Photo of a doctor examining a female patient with an otoscopeEar pain is a pain in one or both ears that may be dull, sharp, or burning. It can be constant or intermittent, and is most common in children. Symptoms will vary depending upon the cause of the ear pain; however, symptoms may include redness, swelling, fever, fullness or pressure, itching, drainage, decreased hearing, tinnitus (ringing in one or both ears) and drainage.

If you are experiencing severe ear pain, dizziness, headache, a discharge of blood or pus from the ear, swelling, and facial muscle weakness, seek medical attention. If pain does not dissipate in 24 to 48 hours or worsens, or your symptoms continue, see an ear doctor. A sudden decrease in severe pain also warrants medical attention, as it may indicate a ruptured eardrum.

How Are Earaches Treated?

Since there are many causes of earaches, treatment will depend on the cause. Treating the cause should relieve ear pain in most situations.

In the meantime, there are steps you can take to treat ear pain at home. Apply a cold, wet washcloth to the ear for at least twenty minutes. Lay on the side with the ear that doesn’t hurt closest to the ground. Sit in an upright position to reduce ear pressure, chew on something to help relieve pain, and use over-the-counter pain relievers. Eardrops can also be administered, unless you suspect an eardrum perforation.

To help prevent earaches, refrain from inserting objects in your ears. Dry your ears thoroughly after bathing or swimming, avoid tobacco smoke, and reduce your exposure to allergy triggers such as pollen and dust.

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