How to Relieve Ear Pain (2023)

Ear pain (otalgia) can feel like a dull, sharp, or burning sensation. The pain may come on gradually or suddenly. It might be constant or come and go, depending on the cause. One or both ears can be affected. Though ear pain is more common in children, it can occur in adults as well.

Read on to learn more about ear pain causes, home remedies, and treatments.

How to Relieve Ear Pain (1)

Ear Pain Causes

Ear pain is a common symptom that can have a number of causes, including infection and injury. Sometimes ear pain is caused by referred pain, which is pain that originates elsewhere in the body (e.g., throat, teeth) and is felt in the ear.

Although rare, ear pain can also be referred from a cancer. Always have persistent ear pain evaluated by a healthcare professional.

One of the most common causes of ear pain is infections of the ear. Ear infections can occur in the inner, middle, and outer ear.

Why Do Ear Infections Happen?

Inner Ear Infection

Labyrinthitis is an ear disorder that is caused by inflammation and/or irritation in the inner parts of the ear, which are responsible for balance and hearing. It may cause symptoms such as vertigo, nausea, vomiting, tinnitus, and temporary hearing loss. Inner ear infections usually do not cause ear pain.

An inner ear infection is usually caused by a viral or bacterial infection, but in some cases can be a symptom of an autoimmune disease.

Middle Ear Infection (Otitis Media)

Middle ear infections (otitis media) occur when fluid and inflamed tissue build up in the middle ear (the area between your eardrum and the oval window of your inner ear).

Otitis media is more common after catching a cold or having nasal congestion. Children are more susceptible to middle ear infections, but adults can get them, too.

What Is a Middle Ear Infection?

The symptoms include moderate to severe aching pain in the ear and fever. If left untreated, the eardrum can rupture because of the pressure buildup of fluids.

(Video) Ear infection home remedies (plus treatments)

Outer Ear Infection (Otitis Externa)

Outer ear infections (otitis externa) occur in the outer ear canal, which runs from your eardrum to where the outside of the ear meets the head.

This type of ear infection is commonly called “swimmer's ear." When water gets into and remains in the ear, it creates a moist environment in which bacteria or fungi can grow and thrive, causing infection.

Otitis externa can also occur when external items placed in the ear (such as headphones, hearing aids, and cotton swabs)damage the skin inside the ear canal, which can lead to infection.

Tips to Prevent Swimmer's Ear

Otitis Media With Effusion

Otitis media with effusion (OME) is a buildup of fluid deep inside the middle ear. The pressure of this fluid may cause pain and temporary hearing loss.

OME, which is sometimes called "glue ear," may clear up on its own. Sometimes a minor procedure to place small tubes (or grommets) in the ear can help drain the fluid to provide relief.

Earwax Blockage

Earwax is meant to protect your ear canal from bacteria, injury, and water. Sometimes the wax can build up or get pushed back into the ear canal, leading to a blockage.

A buildup of earwax can sometimes cause ear pain. With an earwax blockage, you may feel a sensation of fullness or congestion in the ear. You may also hear a ringing in your ears or have temporary hearing loss from the blockage.

What to Do If Your Ears Are Blocked With Wax

Eustachian Tube Blockage

The eustachian tube is a narrow tube that connects the back of the nose to the middle ear. It protects the middle ear from bacteria and viruses, keeps air pressure equal in the middle ear space, and helps drain secretions from the middle ear.

If the eustachian tube is blocked, bacteria or fluid can become trapped inside the ear and cause infection. Symptoms of a blocked eustachian tube include ear pain, ringing or popping sensation in the ear, dizziness, and hearing loss.

External Causes of Ear Pain

Sometimes a pain in the ear is not because there is a problem with the ear itself. Instead, the pain is felt in the ear even though the issue is somewhere else (this is called referred pain).

(Video) How to Relieve Ear Infection Pain

The Anatomy of Outer Ear

Common causes of referred ear pain include:

  • Dental problems: A dental abscess (a collection of pus in the teeth or gums caused by a bacterial infection) or tooth infection causes a throbbing sensation in the affected area of the mouth and can also be felt in the ear.
  • Throat infection: Sore throats can make it painful to swallow, and the discomfort can be felt up in the ear as well. Sometimes an earache is a sign of a throat infection, such as tonsillitis.
  • Temporomandibular joint (TMJ) syndrome: Pain in the joint that connects your lower jaw to your skull can sometimes be felt in your ear.

What Is TMJ?

Home Remedies

There are things you can do at home to relieve ear pain, such as:

  • Chew gum or yawn to help your ears "pop."
  • Hold a cold or warm compress to the outer ear for 15 minutes at a time (alternate between cold/warm throughout the day).
  • Perform neck and jaw exercises that rotate the neck and move the jaw.
  • Sit in an upright position.
  • Take a hot bath or shower to loosen congestion.

Over-the-Counter Treatments

Over-the-counter (OTC) treatments can help reduce pain and inflammation in the ear. Some options include:

  • Ear drops: These products typically contain glycerin and isopropyl alcohol, which help dry excess fluids from the ear.
  • Decongestants: These medicines (e.g., Sudafed, Afrin nasal spray) reduce swelling in the mucous membranes, which helps to open up passages to the ear and relieve symptoms.
  • Pain relievers: OTC pain relievers like acetaminophen and ibuprofen can help with minor discomfort and inflammation.

Prescription Medications

Self-care and OTC medications are not always enough to treat ear pain. If the pain does not go away or gets worse, it's important to see your doctor—especially if you also have a fever, notice pus or fluid coming from the ear, or have hearing loss.

Your doctor may prescribe medications to help treat your earache, including:

  • Antibiotics: If you have an ear infection that is caused by bacteria, your doctor may prescribe oral antibiotics (such as amoxicillin or penicillin).
  • Ear Drops: Your doctor may also prescribe antibiotic ear drops that are placed directly into the ear to clear the infection.

If wax buildup is the culprit causing your ear pain, your doctor might prescribe wax-softening ear drops, which help break up the wax and let it come out on its own.

How to Treat Otitis Externa

(Video) How to Get Rid of Ear Pain

Specialist-Driven Procedures

If you have ongoing ear pain, or an ear condition that requires specialized treatment, your doctor might want to refer you to an ear, nose, and throat (ENT) specialist. This doctor can run additional tests and recommend a procedure to relieve your ear pain.

For example, if your ear pain is caused by a wax blockage, the ENT may perform a procedure to remove wax buildup from the ears for relief.

How to Safely Remove Earwax

Ear Flushing

Ear flushing (ear irrigation) is a medical procedure that removes impacted earwax, debris, dead skin cells, and infected tissue from the ear canal.

The doctor uses a tool called an otoscope to get a clear image of the middle ear to see if irrigation is necessary. If it is, a syringe-like tool is used to insert water or a saline mixture into the ear to flush out any excess earwax.

What Are ENT Disorders?

Microsuction

Microsuctioning (vacuuming ear wax) is a procedure in which a doctor uses a tiny vacuum to gently dislodge and remove impacted earwax. The quick and efficient method is often used when ear flushing or irrigation has not helped.

After the doctor has examined the ear using an otoscope or binaural microscope, they will carefully remove the wax using suction. The process takes only a few minutes, and there should be very little (if any) discomfort felt during the procedure.

How to Clean Your Ears

A Word From Verywell

A case of mild ear pain will often go awayon its own or with the help of home remedies after a few days. If your ear pain is worsening or has not gotten better after several days, it's important to see your doctor. Your ear pain might be caused by an infection or a condition that needs treatment, such as antibiotics or a medical procedure.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • How can I relieve ear pain at night?

    (Video) Best treatment for ear infections

    If ear pain is keeping you up at night, try swallowing and yawning to help open the eustachian tubes. You can also sleep in an elevated position to relieve pressure on the eardrums if the pain is felt most when you're lying down.

  • How can you prevent ear pain while flying?

    There are a few ways you can prevent ear pain while flying in an airplane.

    • During takeoff and landing, try yawning, swallowing, or chewing gum.
    • Drink plenty of fluids and stay hydrated before flight.
    • Before takeoff and during flight, use a saline nose spray.
    • Try not to sleep during ascension or descension.
    • At least one hour before takeoff, try using a decongestant like Afrin or Sudafed
    • Use ear plugs that equalize air pressure.
  • Can you use Vicks VapoRub for an earache?

    No, there is no clinical evidence that suggests Vicks VapoRub can ease an earache. Inserting anything into the ear besides eardrops may put debris in the ear and cause injury.

  • Are there any essential oils that treat ear infections?

    Some essential oils have antibacterial, antiviral, and pain-relieving properties that might be able to treat an ear infection. For example, tea tree oil, garlic oil, and possibly basil oil can help reduce ear swelling, pain, and discharge. However, these oils are not safe for everyone to use. It may be a good idea to consult your healthcare provider before using any natural treatment, including essential oils.

    Learn More:Using Essential Oils for an Ear Infection

    (Video) Medical Insight: Chiropractic Care for Ear Infections - Essentia Health

FAQs

What is the fastest way to relieve ear pain? ›

Home Care to Relieve Ear Pain
  1. A cool or warm compress. Soak a washcloth in either cool or warm water, wring it out, and then put it over the ear that's bothering you. ...
  2. A heating pad: Lay your painful ear on a warm, not hot, heating pad.
  3. Over-the-counter ear drops with pain relievers.

What are some ways to stop ear pain? ›

Here are 11 home remedies and over-the-counter treatments for earaches.
  1. Over-the-counter pain relievers. ...
  2. Cold or warm compresses. ...
  3. Olive oil. ...
  4. Naturopathic drops. ...
  5. Chiropractic treatment. ...
  6. Sleep without putting pressure on the ear. ...
  7. Neck exercises. ...
  8. Ginger.

Why is my ear pain so unbearable? ›

Ear pain is often caused by ear infections, including middle ear infections (otitis media) and swimmer's ear (otitis externa). Children are more likely to have ear infections than adults, although they can occur in people of all ages. In adults, conditions like TMJ and arthritis of the jaw can also cause ear pain.

How long does pain in ear last? ›

Outer ear infection symptoms include pain, reduced hearing, fever, discharge, feeling like the ear is clogged, redness, and swelling. DURATION: If treated properly, outer ear infections generally clear up after 7 to 10 days.

Can ear pain cure itself? ›

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.

Why does my ear not stop hurting? ›

If you experience ear pain that doesn't go away or gets worse within 24 to 48 hours you should call your doctor's office. Also call your doctor if you have severe pain that suddenly stops. This could be a sign that your eardrum has ruptured.

Why is ear pain worse at night? ›

WHY IT HAPPENS: Pain is worse at night because of low cortisol levels. Laying down also backs up drainage into the middle ear, causing pressure on the eardrum and pain. With swimmer's ear, even the ear touching a pillow can cause excrutiating discomfort, and pain is always worse without daytime distractions.

Should I sleep on my hurting ear? ›

If you are experiencing an ear pain, you should not sleep on the side where you have the pain. Instead, try to sleep with the affected ear raised or elevated – these two positions should reduce the pain and not aggravate your ear infection any further.

Can't sleep due to ear pain? ›

Allow pressure release by elevating your head

It is an ideal position, especially if both your ears bear ear infection. Also, ensure you don't sleep on one side of your ear as it may intensify the pain in your ear. You can elevate your head by using an extra pillow or adjusting your bed at an elevated angle.

Is ice or heat better for earache? ›

A heating pad or hot cloth held against the ear for 20 minutes may be helpful for temporary pain relief. While cold temperatures can help numb pain and reduce inflammation, a heating pad may relax the muscles and help improve blood flow.

Videos

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2. Helping you with... Ear Ache
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5. Ear Infections? Do This! | Dr K & Dr Wil
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