Understanding earache

An earache or ear pain can make it harder to enjoy life. There can be many causes, it can occur in one or both ears and can be quick or a little more complicated to treat. Most of the time, however, an earache does not require serious medical attention.


This list is by no means comprehensive, but the following causes are certainly the most common:

  • Ear infections such as middle ear infection or ear canal infection
  • A blocked ear canal—earwax that has either hardened or gone too far into the canal
  • A change in ear pressure when flying on a plane
  • Strep throat
  • A sinus infection
  • A foreign object trapped in the ear
  • ‘Glue ear’ or otitis media with effusion (OME)—built-up fluid deep inside the ear canal with possible hearing loss
  • Ear injury to the eardrum or ear canal while using a cotton swab or other object to remove ear wax or clean the canal
  • Pain in the jaw

If earache occurs with ‘red flag’ symptoms like hearing loss, dizziness or ringing in the ears, do not wait to contact your doctor.


How do I treat an earache?


How you manage the earache depends on the cause.

  • Ibuprofen or aspirin can help relieve pain.
  • A doctor may prescribe antibiotics, but ear infections often resolve without the need for it.
  • A warm or cold compress seems to offer many people relief. Place a warm towel or ice pack to the affected ear and hold for 10 minutes.
  • When sleeping on your side, try not to sleep on the affected ear.
  • If the earache is related to changing cabin atmosphere on a plane during takeoff or landing, chewing gum can help.

In most cases, earache will go away with a little care. If your symptoms persist or get any worse, it’s important to reach out to your doctor. To help prevent earache and ear infections, it’s crucial to never push cotton swabs or other objects into your ear. Also, make sure to visit your doctor once a year for a check-up.