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Welcome to our health education library. The information shared below is provided to you as an educational and informational source only and is not intended to replace a medical examination or consultation, or medical advice given to you by a physician or medical professional.


Earache is pain emanating from the outer ear (earlobe to eardrum) or the middle ear (behind the eardrum). It is not the same as an ear infection, for an earache may occur without the presence of infection, such as in the case of unequal pressure behind the eardrum and throat or mouth problems.

What causes earache?

Pain in the ear may be due to a number of causes:

  • Inflammation of the middle ear. Pressure changes from high altitude, trapped fluid or impacted ear wax inside the ear canal or a cold or allergy may cause the eardrum to become stretched and swollen. This makes the ear painful and impairs hearing.
  • Ruptured or perforated eardrum, usually caused by excessive poking of the ear with a cotton swab or other object.
  • Pain from a toothache, gum, temporomandibular joint (TMJ), sinus or throat problems may be felt in the ear canal area. This is commonly called “referred pain.”
  • Ear irritation due to a foreign object in the ear, such as cotton, paper, beads, stones, an insect or a growth.
  • Ear infection or disease, such as otitis media.

Who is at risk of developing earache?

Young children most commonly develop earache because of various infections and a constant tendency to tug or rub at an ear itch or pain. Adults who are susceptible to colds, sinus or throat infections may also be at risk of developing an earache.

What are the symptoms of earache?

The signs of an earache may include itchiness, a sharp, dull or throbbing pain in the ear, muffled or impaired hearing, a sensation of increased pressure or blockage in the ear, or dizziness. Among young children, earache may be accompanied by fever, irritability and fussiness.

How is earache diagnosed?

A doctor checking for earache will conduct an examination of the ear, mastoid (bony area behind the ear), nose and throat. During the examination, the doctor will look for signs of irritation or infection, such as pain, redness or swelling of any part of the ear, and drainage. He/She will take a complete list of the symptoms that a patient may be feeling. The doctor may decide to wait for a day to see if the conditions improve before prescribing any medication.

How is earache treated?

A doctor will treat an earache according to the source of the pain. If the earache is caused by inflammation in the ear, he may prescribe over-the-counter pain relievers such as acetaminophen or ibuprofen. Pain due to uneven pressure in the ear may be relieved through chewing gum or sucking on hard candy. For pain in the outer ear, the doctor may recommend a cold or warm compress. Impacted earwax or a trapped foreign object may be eased out by olive oil or over-the-counter eardrops. This treatment, however, is not recommended in cases where the eardrum has been perforated or has ruptured. If the earache is a result of an infection, the doctor may prescribe antibiotics.

Can earache be prevented?

Yes, earache can be prevented through proper care of the ear. Avoid putting objects in the ear and dry the ears after every bath or swim. If one is prone to allergies, avoid exposure to allergens.

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