Ear pain: Why you get it and how to treat it

Ear ache and ear pain can be really uncomfortable, but it is possible to treat it yourself. Here’s what you need to know.

We can take our ears for a granted a bit sometimes, especially if they haven’t caused us any problems for a while. But we certainly know about it when they’re hurting.

What causes ear pain?

Ear ache or pain can be caused by many different things, but if there’s a change in hearing, it could be glue ear or a build-up of ear wax, or even a perforated eardrum, which can happen after a loud noise or accident.

If you have ear pain with a fever, it could be an ear infection or a cold or flu, and if it’s accompanied by a pain when swallowing, it could be caused by a sore throat, tonsillitis or quinsy, a rare complication of tonsillitis.

What you can do to treat it

The following recommendations from the NHS are the best way to deal with ear pain yourself:

- You can take painkillers, such as ibuprofen and paracetamol
- Putting a warm or cold flannel over your ear can give it some comfort
- Your pharmacist can advise you on treatments, such as eardrops
- Make sure you don’t put anything in your ear, such as cotton buds
- Don’t try and remove earwax from your ear
- Don’t let water get in your ear, as this could make the pain worse

When to see a GP

The NHS advises that you go and see your doctor if you have any of the following symptoms, accompanying the ear pain:

- a high temperature
- swelling around the ear
- fluid coming from the ear
- something stuck in the ear
- an earache for more than 3 days
- hearing loss or a change in hearing
- other symptoms, like vomiting or a severe sore throat

Ear pain in babies and young children

Most cases of earache in children are caused by an ear infection and they should start to feel better in a few days. In babies, the ear pain may be caused by teething and in children it could be caused by a dental abscess, where puss collects in the tooth, gum or bone, caused by a bacterial infection.

If your baby or child is displaying any of the following symptoms, they could have earache:

- rub or pull their ear
- don’t react to some sounds
- have a fever
- are irritable or restless
- are off their food
- keep losing their balance

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