Ear pain (otalgia) commonly occurs in children, but it can also happen in adults. Pain that begins inside the ear is known as primary otalgia, whereas pain that originates outside the ear is known as secondary otalgia.right up arrow.
Ear pain can arise gradually or all of a sudden. The pain can feel dull, sharp, or burning, and can be temporary or ongoing. Usually, the pain arises in only one ear, but sometimes it can appear in both ears.
Signs and Symptoms of Ear PainSymptoms that can accompany ear pain include:
- Jaw pain
- Clicking or popping
- Fussiness and irritability (in children)
- Increased crying (in children)
- Loss of appetite (in children)
- Drainage from the ear
- Hearing loss
- Difficulty chewing
Common Causes of Ear Pain
Your ear makes and gets rid of wax all the time. When the process doesn’t work well, the gunk builds up and hardens so your ear canal gets blocked. Your doctor will call this impacted wax. Sometimes, it causes pain.
Don’t use cotton swabs or other objects to try to get wax out. You’ll just push it farther into your ear canal and make it more likely to get impacted. Your ear might hurt, itch, discharge gunk, or get infected. You could even lose your hearing for a while.
You can treat mildly impacted ears at home with over-the-counter ear drops that soften the wax so it can naturally drain. Or go see your doctor if the wax has hardened. She can get the wax out without damaging the eardrum. Learn more about earwax.
Swimmer’s EarIf your ear hurts when you pull on your earlobe or push on the tiny flap that closes it, you probably have this outer ear infection. You get it when water trapped in your ear canal begins to breed germs. Your ear might get red, swollen, or itch and leak pus. It isn’t contagious. To avoid it, keep your ears dry during and after swimming.
Most of the time, your ear does a great job of keeping pressure equal on both sides of your eardrum. That little pop you feel when you swallow is part of the process. But quick changes, like when you’re on an airplane or in an elevator, can throw off the balance. Your ear might hurt, and you could have trouble hearing. This is typically a eustachian tube dysfunction which can be a chronic in some people.
To avoid problems on a plane:
- Take a deep breath, pinch your nostrils shut, then gently try to blow air out of your nose.
- Stay awake while the plane descends.
- Chew gum, suck on hard candy, or yawn and swallow during takeoff and landing.
Other possible causes of ear pain include:
Temporomandibular joint syndrome (TMJ, or problems with the joint that connects your jaw to the side of your head)
- Arthritis of the jaw
- Sinus infection
- Sore throat
- Tooth infection
- Buildup of earwax
- Ruptured eardrum
- Altitude pressure changes (barotrauma)
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Ear Pain Home RemediesIf you have ear pain, it’s a good idea to talk with your doctor about it. There’s little research to say whether or not home care works, but most doctors agree these treatments are safe to try yourself:
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. Try both temperatures to see if one helps you more than the other.
A heating pad: Lay your painful ear on a warm, not hot, heating pad.
Over-the-counter ear drops with pain relievers. If they help at all, it’s only briefly. You shouldn’t use these drops if your eardrum has a tear or hole, so check with your doctor first.
Pain reliever. Acetaminophen, ibuprofen, or naproxen can often relieve the pain of an earache. Ask your doctor which is right for you.
Chew gum. If you’re on an airplane or driving at high altitudes and your ear pain is from the change in air pressure, chew some gum. It can help lower that pressure and ease your symptoms.
Sleep upright. While it may sound strange, resting or sleeping sitting up rather than lying down can encourage fluid in your ear to drain. This could ease pressure and pain in your middle ear. Prop yourself up in bed with a stack of pillows, or sleep in an armchair that’s a bit reclined.