What are earaches (or ear aches)?
Earaches are pains felt somewhere in or near the ear. These pains can be dull, radiating, sharp, or burning. They are common in children but can occur in adults as well. Sometimes pain originating in the mouth (like jaw or teeth) is felt in the ears as well.
Why do earaches occur?
Earaches occur for a number of reasons, including (but not limited to): earwax blockage, outer ear infection, foreign body in the ear, middle ear infection, sinusitis (sinus infections), sore throat, swimmer's ear, tonsillitis, mastoiditis, TMJ (temporomandibular joint) disorders, ear barotrauma, chronic ear infection, and eardrum rupture. If your earache begins to show serious symptoms, see your doctor.
Which symptoms should I watch out for?
If you have any of the following serious symptoms, make an appointment with your doctor:
• severe or radiating ear pain
• spells of dizziness
• extreme headaches
• any swelling around your ear
• drooping of the facial muscles
• any blood or pus drainage from your ear
• the severe pain suddenly stops (might mean a ruptured eardrum)
My (or my child's) earache is only mild. What can I do at home?
If you have a mild earaches, there are some things you can do at home to help lessen the pain. However, if you don't see improvement within 48 hours, you should see a doctor. For pain reduction, place a cold pack or a cold washcloth on the outer ear for about 20 minutes. Over-the-counter ear drops may also help to reduce pain. For pressure reduction, chewing gum or swallowing often helps to relieve pressure. Resting in an upright position also has been shown to help. For infants, allow them to suck on a bottle or breastfeed.
How can I prevent earaches?
Preventative measures for earaches include:
• avoiding smoking
• carefully drying the ears after swimming or bathing
• avoiding allergens (like dust, lint, and pollen)
• keeping foreign objects out of the ear
• using wax-softening ear drops
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Lieberthal AS, Carroll AE, Chonmaitree T. Clinical Practice Guideline: The Diagnosis and Management of Acute Otitis Media. Pediatrics. 2013;131(3): e964-e999.
Martell, Janelle. "What Causes Earache? 20 Possible Conditions." Earache: Causes, Treatments & Prevention. Healthline, 10 Sept. 2012. <http://www.healthline.com/symptom/earache>