An earache can be caused by a problem within your ear. A problem or condition in another body area can also cause pain that travels to your ear. An earache can be caused by any of the following:
- Infection of the inner or outer ear
- Earwax buildup, or small objects put into your ear
- Ear injury caused by a cotton swab or by air pressure changes from a plane ride or scuba diving
- Other infections, such as tonsillitis or pharyngitis
- Jaw or dental problems such as cavities or TMJ
Neck pain caused by problems such as arthritis in your upper spine
How is an earache diagnosed?
Your healthcare provider will examine your ears, head, neck, and mouth. He or she will also ask you to describe your symptoms. You may also need the following:
- Audiometry is a test used to check for hearing loss. Your healthcare provider will play sounds at different volumes to check how much you can hear.
- Tympanometry is a test used to check pressure changes that may be a sign of problems with your inner ear.
How is an earache treated?
Earaches usually are not serious and go away on their own without treatment. The following can help make you more comfortable:
- Acetaminophen decreases pain and fever. It is available without a doctor's order. Ask how much to take and how often to take it. Follow directions. Read the labels of all other medicines you are using to see if they also contain acetaminophen, or ask your doctor or pharmacist. Acetaminophen can cause liver damage if not taken correctly. Do not use more than 4 grams (4,000 milligrams) total of acetaminophen in one day.
- NSAIDs , such as ibuprofen, help decrease swelling, pain, and fever. This medicine is available with or without a doctor's order. NSAIDs can cause stomach bleeding or kidney problems in certain people. If you take blood thinner medicine, always ask your healthcare provider if NSAIDs are safe for you. Always read the medicine label and follow directions.
- Do not give aspirin to children under 18 years of age. Your child could develop Reye syndrome if he takes aspirin. Reye syndrome can cause life-threatening brain and liver damage. Check your child's medicine labels for aspirin, salicylates, or oil of wintergreen.
When should I call my doctor?
- You have a severe earache.
- You have hearing loss, dizziness, a feeling of fullness in your ear, or ringing in your ears.
- Your ear pain worsens or does not go away with treatment.
- You have drainage from your ear.
- You have a fever.
- Your outer ear becomes red, swollen, and warm.
- You have questions or concerns about your condition or care.