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Earache is a common complaint, especially in children. It is generally caused by an ear infection, but can also be caused by:

  • allergies or irritation
  • changes in air pressure, such as when you take off or land in a plane
  • an object in the ear
  • a burst eardrum (for example, if something has been pushed too far into the ear or from a middle ear infection)
  • an injury
  • a build up of ear wax
  • loud noises
  • referred pain from a throat infection or an infection near the ear like sinusitis or tonsillitis
  • problems with the jaw
  • dental problems, such as teeth grinding or an abscess

If the pain persists or gets worse, or if you feel sick or have a temperature, see your doctor.

Earache treatments

Some earaches go away on their own within 7 days and do not need treatment. Children rarely need antibiotics for an earache. Simple painkillers like paracetamol can help.

But you should see your doctor if:

  • the pain doesn’t go away or is getting worse
  • you are feeling unwell with fevers
  • you have a discharge from your ears
  • it is a child under 2 who has the earache
  • you are worried and unsure what to do

Never try to remove something stuck in the ear yourself. Over the counter ear drops or olive oil drops should not be used if the ear drum has burst, and they will not help an ear infection.

Ways to ease the pain include:

  • holding a warm cloth or heat pack to your ear
  • covering your ears if cold weather or wind makes symptoms worse

If you have a discharge, you can gently clean the outer ear with cotton wool. If there is discharge from both ears, use a new piece of cotton wool for each ear.

Learn more here about the development and quality assurance of healthdirect content.

Last reviewed: November 2019

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