- Ear pain can come from a problem in your ear, or as referred pain from another part of your body.
- Pain from a middle ear infection is likely to get better on its own within 7 days and usually won’t need antibiotics. Use pain relief medicines like paracetamol or ibuprofen for short-term relief.
- Sometimes a sore ear is caused by a more serious problem and will need medical attention.
- Check your symptoms with the healthdirect online Symptom Checker for advice on when to seek medical attention.
What is earache?
Earache (sore ear) is a common complaint, especially in children. It is most commonly caused by an ear infection.
What causes ear pain?
- changes in air pressure, such as when you take off or land in a plane
- an object in the ear (a ‘foreign body’)
- an injury to your ear or eardrum
- a build up of ear wax
Ear pain can also come from a problem in another part of your body, such as:
- referred pain from an infection near the ear, such as sinusitis or tonsillitis
- problems with the jaw joint (called the temporomandibular joint or TMJ)
- dental problems, such as teeth grinding or a dental infection
When do I need to see my doctor for earache?
Sometimes a sore ear is caused by a more serious problem. It’s important to see your doctor if:
- your ear pain persists or gets worse
- you have discharge (fluid leaking) from your ear
- you feel sick or have a fever
- your hearing is getting worse
- you have diabetes or a lowered immune system
- your child under 2 years of age has a sore ear
How can I treat earache?
How you treat your earache depends on what is causing your pain.
If your pain is coming from a build-up of wax, you may need ear drops to soften the wax. You might need to have your ear canal cleaned by a health professional.
If your earache is caused by a middle ear infection, it’s likely to get better on its own within 7 days and usually won’t need antibiotics. Until the pain gets better, you can use simple pain relief medicines like paracetamol or ibuprofen.
If your earache is caused by an outer ear infection, you may need a prescription for antibiotic ear drops to treat it. The drops may contain other medicines such as steroids.
Never try to remove something stuck inside your ear by yourself — ask your doctor for help.
What can I do to relieve ear pain?
Remedies that may give you some relief include:
- holding a warm cloth or heat pack along the outside of your ear
- taking pain relief medicines such as paracetamol or ibuprofen
- sleeping with your head resting on 2 pillows (or more)
Don’t clean your ears with cotton buds, they can damage your ears and don’t effectively remove the wax.
If you have discharge from your ear, 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.
If you are concerned, check your symptoms with the healthdirect online Symptom Checker for advice on when to seek medical attention.
The Symptom Checker guides you to the next appropriate healthcare steps, whether it’s self care, talking to a health professional, going to a hospital or calling triple zero (000).
CHECK YOUR SYMPTOMS — Use the Symptom Checker and find out if you need to seek medical help.
Learn more here about the development and quality assurance of healthdirect content.
Last reviewed: May 2022